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Memorial Day is one of my favorite days of the year to attend the races. I don’t make a lot of trips to Hollywood Park during the season because of the convenience of working at Santa Anita, which is much closer to where I live. But I have made it a tradition to be on track (along with 11,032 in attendance this year) for the holiday card and was treated to a couple of outstanding performances.

THE TIN MAN truly has become a present day John Henry. With his win in Monday’s Shoemaker Mile, he matched the legendary gelding by winning a Grade I event as a 9-year-old. Coming off an eight-month layoff, I doubted that the old-timer would be ready to fire his best shot, especially going only a flat mile. But there he was, coming away through the final 100 yards to whip horses half his age. After a 2006 campaign in which he earned nearly $2 million when winning four of five starts, THE TIN MAN looks set to have another outstanding year. Give full credit to Richard Mandella, who was winning his first race of the meet, for getting remarkable old guy back to the races in tip-top form. The goal is a repeat attempt in the Arlington Million but Mandella hinted that he might like to try ‘MAN in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which would be his first lifetime start on the main track. He trains so well over the Cushion Track that Mandella is toying with the idea of moving him off the turf for the first time in 28 lifetime starts. How about a matchup between LAVA MAN vs. THE TIN MAN on Gold Cup Day?

CITRONNADE took down her first Grade I with a front-running victory in the Gamely. She got away with yet another soft trip while winning her fourth straight (now five for six on turf), holding off a strong challenge from stablemate PRICE TAG as trainer Bobby Frankel runs one-two. I wrote here recently that you could expect Frankel to start rolling after a slow start, and he has. Previously unbeaten VACARE was exposed a little bit here, finishing a distant third while taking on “real” horses for the first time. As her rider Jose Valdivia said, “I turned for home and David’s [Flores, rider of the winner] hind end was getting smaller and smaller.” The race was marred by the breakdown of THREE DEGREES, who took a bad step right near the wire. The 5-year-old mare had to be put down on the track. Talk about the highs and lows of this game. Owners David Bienstock and Charles Winner had just enjoyed a nice win by FANTASTIC SPAIN in the Golden Gate Fields Breeders’ Cup about 15 minutes prior to the tragic breakdown of their THREE DEGREES. LeRoy Jolley sounded unsympathetic when he said it after the breakdown of Ruffian but his words still ring true: “This is not a game for little boys in short pants.”

Also on Monday: Two riding victories for Flores, who was also aboard promising winner HEWITTS for trainer Bob Hess…LE COPAIN has really come around lately for the Bump-Delgadillo tandem…Ron Ellis continues to blaze as his LATIN RHYTHMS took the 8th…how about the late odds drop on BLACK SEVENTEEN, who entered the gate at 7/2 but wound up at 5/2 at the wire. What kind of hit was needed to move the board two points in a race where there was probably about $200,000 in the win pool?

On Sunday: Two more wins by Joe Talamo, to cut Michael Baze’s lead down to 30-27 in the jockey standings…a riding double by Corey Nakatani, who figures to get some momentum with new agent Craig O’Bryan…2-year-olds had the spotlight in the Willard Proctor Memorial and Cinderella Stakes but I wasn’t impressed with either THOROUGHLY in the male division or WONDERFUL LUCK in the filly division. Both rallied from last to win total setups as the leaders melted down up front. The final 1/16th in both races was run in :07.1—not good.

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