You might think one would be hard pressed to say training a horse up to the Breeders’ Cup was a masterpiece before said horse even made it to the starting gate. Not so in the case of Richard Mandella and Omaha Beach.
The last horse I can recall off hand, and one of only a select few I’m sure, who would be a contender in several Breeders’ Cup races the same year was Wise Dan. He is a former champion and Horse of the Year. While Omaha Beach holds no such titles yet, he does have the distinction of having several options regarding which Breeders’ Cup race his connections decide to try, and he would be a contender in any of them.
I am not comparing Omaha Beach to Wise Dan. They are very different types of horses and Omaha Beach is still lightly raced and inexperienced when you look at the two. They just have a glaring and somewhat rare commonality in that they both can contend in so many varied Breeders Cup races.
The fact Omaha Beach is in this position is not solely because of his talent and class. Make no mistake it is also the result of the masterful training of his conditioner Richard Mandella. This was not only an example of putting the horse first, but also of playing the cards you were dealt while moving ahead with a game plan you had been forced to alter more than once.
Before we get into Mandella’s work of art with Omaha Beach, let’s talk a little about his past resume. In a career that goes back to 1974, his horses have earned in excess of 140 million dollars. He’s won over 2000 races and counting, many at the highest levels of the Sport of Kings. He trained champion Beholder to not only an outstanding career, but a noteworthy campaign which outlasted most of the greats of today’s age. He won four (4) Breeders’ Cup races on one card back in 2003 when he took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Halfbridled, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Action This Day, the Breeders’ Cup Turf with Johar, (Dead Heat) and the Classic with Pleasantly Perfect. You can add Kotashaan and Phone Chatter to his list of Breeders’ Cup winners. One major stake that has eluded Richard Mandella, and there are not many of them, is the Kentucky Derby. Mandella appeared to have his best chance yet to win the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May with Omaha Beach this year. Having followed his career so long, and watched his style and technique, along with his dedication to both craft and horse, it was hardly necessary to ask him what a Derby win would mean.
Despite the race all trainers want to win being seemingly in Mandella’s grasp, as one would expect the conditioner put the horse first. When it was learned Omaha Beach had a breathing problem, which turned out to be an entrapped epiglottis, the horse was scratched from the derby as the early favorite. Omaha beach had the condition surgically repaired and was on the shelf through the three-year old spring Triple Crown classics.
Omaha Beach had an interesting start to his career. Mandella must have felt the horse wanted distance, and perhaps turf being by War Front as he started him in a Maiden Special Weight race on the grass at one mile. He finished fast for third. He was then beaten a nose in a similar race and then a neck in a race a sixteenth of a mile further. Expectations were high as the colt was heavily favored in all those races and Mandella is not known to crank up his horses early. He has always had a let them develop type of approach. He put the colt on the dirt off the three grass narrow defeats for the first time in January which was also his first race as a three-year old. Coincidence ? You decide. The results were the same, a narrow defeat at short odds. Omaha Beach was starting to look like he did not have the killer instinct a good horse needs.
The fear Omaha Beach could not get it done in the afternoon went away in a big way in his second start on the dirt, albeit sloppy dirt, when the colt drew off to win by nine lengths going seven furlongs against Maiden Special Weight company. Showing the high expectations and confidence Mandella had in his colt, he put him on the Triple Crown trail and sent him to Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. Mike Smith rode him for the first time and he beat two-year old champion Game Winner by a nose. Any lingering doubts about Omaha Beach having a desire to win now were soundly erased.
Omaha Beach came back and won the Arkansas Derby easily handling Improbable and eventual Kentucky Derby (by disqualification of Maximum Security) Country House. He would have been the Derby favorite had he not been sidelined. Mike Smith was faced with committing to Omaha Beach for the Kentucky Derby over the Bob Baffert trained Roadster. Smith and Baffert had a strong history together including a Triple Crown with Justify. Smith chose Omaha Beach.
A horse who was expected to win on the first Saturday in May at a mile and a quarter against the best three-year olds around, would not look like a good fit for a six furlong sprint stake at Santa Anita against older horses in October. With six fast and excellent workouts showing that is precisely where Mandella sent his colt. Off the layoff, Mandella cut Omaha beach back to six furlongs in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. He had to run down freakishly fast Shancelot who was on the lead alone in splits of 21.87, 44.38, and 56.18. Coming up the rail on the inside, showing no fear and grit Omaha Beach nailed the speedster in 1:08.79. This horse has more than blossomed. He’s emerged.
Mandella was contacted by Parx officials about running his star colt there in his comeback race. Not in the Pennsylvania Derby, but in the Parx Mile on the undercard. I’m told Mandella considered it an interesting spot, but declined informing Parx he did not have time to have his colt ready for the mile distance.
With the win at Santa Anita Mandella opened the door to run Omaha Beach in the Breeders Cup Sprint, Mile or Classic. He would be a legitimate contender in any of those races. Going outside the box Omaha Beach, who we’ll stay cognizant of is a son of War Front was not exactly disgraced on the turf. I personally think he could contend in the turf mile, and maybe even the Breeders’ Cup Turf or sprint. A three-year old getting good late in the year is always dangerous and let us not forget Mandella started this colt on turf for a reason.
Taking a horse off the layoff and putting him in this position, to have his choice of Breeders’ Cup spots where he can contend is a masterpiece of training.
A great trainer has gotten a great horse into a great position and it could very well be the best is yet to come!
Regardless of if, when, or where Omaha Beach goes, or even how he runs Mandella has done his job as good as it can be done. If he manages to win a Breeders’ Cup race this year it will be on a par with Da Hoss, Prized, or Gilded Time, three of the greatest training performances in Breeders’ Cup history. We’ve already seen the masterpiece, the only question remaining is will we see him pop the cork.
Jonathan Stettin #P6K