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Richard Mandella back in Kentucky Derby picture after Forbidden Kingdom’s win

Jockey Juan Hernandez rides Forbidden Kingdom to victory in the Grade II $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
Jockey Juan Hernandez rides Forbidden Kingdom to victory in the Grade II $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

Trainer Richard Mandella wasn’t sure he would find himself in this spot, but now that he‘s here, he’s starting to feel pretty comfortable. Saturday, his 3-year-old colt Forbidden Kingdom dominated from the gate to win the Grade 2 $400,000 San Felipe Stakes by 5¾ lengths. It could have been more.

Forbidden Kingdom earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, meaning the horse is all but assured a spot in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

Despite the dominance, there will be the question of whether the horse can go the 1¼ miles needed to win the Kentucky Derby. Saturday’s win was at 1-1/16 miles and the next step will be the 1-1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby in a month. In his previous race, he won the San Vicente, a seven-furlong race. If he runs in the Kentucky Derby, it will be his first race outside Southern California.

Express Train holds off a game Warrant to win the Santa Anita Handicap by a head for trainer John Shirreffs. It was Shirreffs first Big ‘Cap win.

“Early in the Del Mar meet [I was asked] about two turns and I said I’m not sure he’ll do it,” Mandella said. “He’s kind of grown up into it.”

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Jockey Juan Hernandez hustled Forbidden Kingdom out of the gate and went straight to the front. Armagnac went with him through the first turn but midway down the backstretch, Forbidden Kingdom was up by three lengths. His half-mile time was a blistering 45.90 seconds.

“I was a little nervous when I saw the half in 45, but he can do that so there is no sense taking that away from him,” Mandella said. “Let him do what he likes to do.”

By the far turn, Forbidden Kingdom had a seven-length lead before Hernandez geared him down through the stretch, never asking him to go faster.

“He got the jump after we broke,” Hernandez said. “I just let him run because he was going faster. I let him have fun. I let him on the lead and he never stopped all the race.”

Forbidden Kingdom was the even-money favorite and paid $4.00, $2.40 and $2.20. Doppelganger was second followed by Happy Jack, Beautiful Art, Cabo Spirit, Armagnac and Worse Read Sanchez.

Mandella, 71, hasn’t had a Kentucky Derby starter in 18 years, when he had Action This Day and Minister Eric. He had the pre-race favorite with Omaha Beach in 2019, but the colt scratched four days before the Derby with a throat issue. Despite being in the Hall of Fame and winning nine Breeders’ Cup races, Mandella never has won a Triple Crown race. He has had six Derby starters but never finished better than fifth.

Asked to compare Forbidden Kingdom to Omaha Beach, Mandella didn’t bite.

“It’s hard to compare horse to horse,” he said. “Omaha was a great horse. This guy is turning that way.”

Doppelganger normally would have been awarded 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points but because he is trained by Bob Baffert the points were vacated. Baffert has been banned by Churchill Downs for two years after last year’s disqualified Derby winner, Medina Spirit, tested positive for a medication that is banned on race day. The situation is headed to court as time is running out.

There were four other graded stakes races at Santa Anita on Saturday besides the San Felipe and Santa Anita Handicap. Cezanne ($3.20 to win), a $3.65-million purchase who has not lived up to his price tag, won the seven-furlong Grade 2 San Carlos Stakesby 2½ lengths. Leggs Galore (6.80), under a masterful ride by Ricardo Gonzalez, held on to win the Grade 2 $200,00 Buena Vista Stakes by half a length in a race for fillies and mares going a mile on the turf.

Bob Baffert files suit against Churchill Downs to run in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The courts will help decide the starting lineup to this year’s race.

As Times Goes By ($2.60) had a gate-to-wire win in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile by 2¼ lengths in a race for older horses going a mile on the dirt. The race was less than hoped for when the field scratched down to just four horses. It was Baffert’s second graded stakes win of the day, the trainer also winning with Cezanne. Count Again ($6.60) came on late in the stretch to win the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile in a photo finish in the turf race.

There were two other win-and-you’re-in-the-Derby races Saturday. Undefeated Morello came from off the pace to win the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York, and Simplification won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in South Florida.

The Fountain of Youth race had a spill coming into the stretch when High Oak and Galt clipped heels, unseating both jockeys and sending both horses to the ground. The horses were said to be OK and jockey Joel Rosario suffered what he called a minor back issue. However, jockey Junior Alvarado might have had a more significant ankle or leg injury.


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