Sunday, February 9, 2003

Man Among Men marks himself as Derby material

By Beth Harris
The Associated Press

ARCADIA, Calif. - Man Among Men returned to the dirt and won the $81,000 Sham Stakes by a length Friday at Santa Anita, stamping himself as Kentucky Derby material.

The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Gentlemen covered 1[ miles in 1:49.39 and paid $20.20, $4.60 and $2.10 against other colts with hopes of running at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Jerry Bailey flew in from Florida to ride highly touted Empire Maker, who finished second in the field of seven 3-year-olds. The colt, trained by Bobby Frankel, returned $4.60 and $2.10 as the 2-5 wagering favorite.

"He's physically fit, but he's not real razor-sharp mentally yet," Bailey said. "This was only his third race and he hadn't run in a while. Considering all that, he ran a good race."

Spensive, one of two Bob Baffert-trained colts in the race, was another two lengths back in third and paid $2.10 to show. Truckle Feature, Baffert's other runner, wound up sixth after leading most of the way.

Ten Most Wanted was fourth, Pine for Java fifth and Storm Gulch seventh after being eased.

Trained by Gary Mandella, Man Among Men finished eighth in his dirt debut in June at Hollywood Park. He was beaten 111/4 lengths in that race by Kafwain, another Baffert trainee who won the San Vicente Stakes last Saturday at Santa Anita.

"He handled the dirt good even though he hadn't been on it for a while," winning jockey Alex Solis said. "I like the fact he's already won at a mile and an eighth, the Santa Anita Derby distance."

Man Among Men's last three starts were on the grass, with two wins and a fourth in the Generous Stakes.

"He's a different horse now. He's a little more professional. That's what seasoning gets you," Mandella said. "When you know a horse can run all day, you got to go back to the dirt and find out. We found out today that he's a nice horse no matter what he's doing.

"Distance is never going to be a question for him. It's just a matter of putting him in with some of the other 3-year-olds and see if he's as good as them, too."

Carrying co-high weight of 120 pounds, Man Among Men was bumped at the start and took the lead approaching the stretch. Empire Maker angled in along the rail, split horses in the upper stretch, but couldn't pressure the leader.

Man Among Men is co-owned by R.D. Hubbard, former chairman of Hollywood Park.

Mandella said the next race that makes the most sense for his colt is the San Felipe Stakes here on March 16, but he hasn't ruled out the El Camino Real Derby on March 8 at Golden Gate Fields or the Louisiana Derby on March 9 at the Fairgrounds.

"The most important thing is how he looks tomorrow," Mandella said. "If he doesn't look good tomorrow, then none of this matters at all."

Baffert saddled two winners Friday, a day after losing his top Kentucky Derby contender to injury.

Vindication was declared out of the Triple Crown races Thursday with an injury to his left foreleg. The undefeated colt, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October, is owned by Satish Sanan's Padua Stables.

Besides Kafwain, Baffert's other strong Derby possibility is Domestic Dispute, who won the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 18.

Randy Bradshaw, training manager for Padua Stables in Ocala, Fla., and Padua veterinarian Dr. Bob Bloomer, were at Santa Anita on Friday to examine Vindication and give opinions on his future.

"It's a tough deal, but it's part of the game," Bradshaw said. "You just have to accept some of those things, but it's not fun."

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