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While trainer Richard Mandella wasn’t on the grounds for Ruby Nell’s first appearance in South Florida, the Hall of Famer is at Gulfstream Park this week for his emerging star’s second visit in the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G2).
Ruby Nell drew Post 6 in the full field of 12 in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf, which will be featured on Saturday’s 13-race program that will also be highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat and the $1 million I/ST BET Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) and four other graded stakes.t on dirt.
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Mandella has made the cross-country trip to saddle Ruby Nell for the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She has won three of her last four races, is 5-2-1 in 10 career starts, and could be the speed of the 1 1/16-mile contest.
“She’s got a lot of talent,” said Mandella, who has handled many top-level runners since he started running horses in his own name with a debut win 50 years ago in March 1974.
Frankie Dettori will ride, subbing for Edwin Maldonado, who recently injured a shoulder.
Mandella, 73, rarely competes in Florida. His last starter at Gulfstream was Shutup and Dance, who won the Candy Éclair Stakes on March 1, 2001.
He brought Omaha Beach for the 2020 Pegasus World Cup but had to scratch the morning-line favorite a couple of days before the race due to an injury. He said he well remembers Puerto Madero’s win in the 1999 Donn Handicap (G1) (the previous name of the Pegasus World Cup) over Silver Charm, who finished third at 4-5.
In late March 2022, the yet-to-be-named Ruby Nell, a 2-year-old from the first crop of Bolt d’Oro turned in the top quarter-mile breeze time, 20.2 seconds, for the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale. After that performance she was the sales topper, with a winning bid of $1.2 million from Spendthrift Farm, which stands her sire. Later in the year, she was sent to Mandella’s barn at Santa Anita Park.
Ruby Nell dazzled on the main track before the sale and has developed into a turf stakes winner for Mandella. Since he moved her to two-turn grass races in May, she has won five of seven starts. One of the wins was in a sprint, the 6 ½-furlong Unzip Me Stakes.
Speed is a chief strength, and she has won three times leading from gate to wire. Two were in one-mile stakes, the Autumn Miss (G3) and the Lady Shamrock on Dec. 31 when she was 1-5 in the wagering.
Mandella said the filly has shown some versality as she has matured and gained racing experience.
“She wants to be a little aggressive, but she’s manageable,” he said. “We won’t make any plans on how to go about the race till we see the rest of them, but she likes being in front and does pretty well doing it.”
Mandella opted to have Maldonado test whether Ruby Nell could be rated against top competition in the one-mile Matriarch (G1) on Dec. 3. Reserved early, she was wide much of the way. She did rally impressively to move into contention but could not maintain the surge and ended up fifth, beaten two lengths.
“She had gone from a race where she was eight lengths in front to being eight lengths behind on a slower pace,” Mandella said. “It was just too big of a change. We did learn that you could take a hold of her and rate her a little bit if you wanted to.
“Frankie Dettori has won a million races and is one of the greatest jockeys. I’m not going to give him too many instructions,” he added. “He’s ridden her once himself and ran second. When the gates open, he will figure out what’s best.”
Maldonado followed instructions in the Matriarch at Del Mar, but the experiment did not play out the way Mandella had hoped with an off-the-pace victory.
“I think he took too big of a hold of her,” Mandella said. “I’m not saying that critically, I’m just saying, that’s a learning process because he thought she wouldn’t rate. It kind of proved that you could, and she finished well in the race. It wasn’t like she didn’t finish good. I don’t think she has to be on the lead, but she likes it. We won’t discourage it either.”
Mandella, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, has won 2,295 races and his horses have earned $155 million in purse money, 15th in North American racing history. He has developed five champions, including Hall of Famer Beholder, the four-time Eclipse Award winner.
Beholder’s daughter Tamara burst on the scene last year in California, showing what Mandella described as “extreme talent” in her first two starts. She was the 4-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) but was injured in the race and ended up seventh.
“She cracked a splint bone on a hind leg,” Mandella said. “She must have kicked something or hit it on something. I don’t know. But it’s almost perfectly healed now, and within two months, because those heal quick. She will go back into light training next week. We’re anxious to get her back.”
Mandella said it is too late for her to make the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 3.
“She’ll come back and when she’s ready. We’ll find some races for her,” he said. “There will be plenty.”
Tamara possesses quality, Mandella said, that sets her apart.
“She’s not as big and strong as her mother, but she’s got the heart of a lion,” he said. “That’s what it takes often.”
When he turned 60, Mandella downsized his operation from two barns and upwards of 60 horses to 40 horses in one barn.
“This is my life. This is what I love,” he said. “I can’t say enough about my wife, Randi, being there to support me all those years and allow me the ability to be at the barn and to do the work that I do. I don’t do as much as I used to. But I’ve got a son (Gary), that’s very good, that helps me, and I’ve got an assistant trainer and several others. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do this.”
With longtime patrons like Spendthrift and Ramona Bass sending him quality runners, Mandella maintains a formidable stable. Last year he won 12 of the 44 graded stakes he entered, two of them Grade 1: Geaux Rocket Ride in the Haskell and Tamara in the Del Mar Debutante. His graded stakes horses had an in-the-money percentage of 47. So far this year, Mandella is 5-2-1 from 10 starts with two of the wins coming in stakes.
“I still have all the business that I want, and a little more sometimes,” he said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative and happier with where I am. And if it ever starts getting sour, I’ll just say goodnight and ride off into the sunset.”
First race post time Saturday is set for 11 a.m. EST. The Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf will go off as Race 10, with a scheduled post time of 3:45 p.m. EST. NBC will provide live national television coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.
In addition to the top prize money for the winner, The TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf is an automatic qualifier for the Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes at “Glorious Goodwood” in late July. The winner will get an automatic entry into the race and a $25k stipend for travel.
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