One of the greatest things about the Kentucky Derby is certainly the road that leads to that first Saturday in May. Make no mistake the two minute chase around that dirt oval is more than fantastic. But the weeks that lead up to the event are even more special because of the magical affliction known as Derby Fever. It can be all encompassing to the many that are chasing immortality. No matter age or experience in the game, the grip can even grab a hall of fame trainer with over 2,000 career wins.

Richard Mandella has long been one of the most revered conditioners on the West Coast. Since 1976, the California native has had his own stable and over the years has made quite a name for himself. He shook the pillars of the racing world with an upset of the mighty Cigar in the 1996 Pacific Classic (Dare and Go) and then again jolted the sport when his beloved mare Beholder put on one of the most dominating performances ever in the 2015 renewal of the same million dollar race. In between and to this day, Mandella has orchestrated wins in Stakes races all across the country. One thing missing from his resounding resume however, is a win in the world’s most famous race.

A promising three-year old is the apple of every trainer’s eye. Omaha Beach is a highly competitive colt that has Mandella dreaming of the Kentucky Derby. After switching this son of War Front from grass to dirt, the light bulb has gone from flickering to full blast. Wins in his last two starts have included a romp at Santa Anita and a gutty triumph by a nose over Juvenile Champ Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

“We thought that because he was a War Front horse he would like the grass better,” says Mandella. “After these last two runs I think we know he loves the dirt. We always thought he had some special talent and now we know he is the real thing.”

The Rebel run was very impressive for a horse that has never finished worse than third in five career starts. Shipped to Oaklawn after the cancellation of the San Felipe at Santa Anita, the Beach landed in the second division of the expanded Kentucky Derby prep. Taking command inside the half mile pole in his Stakes debut under jockey Mike Smith, Omaha Beach engaged in a serious stretch duel with the highly decorated Game Winner and held him off at the wire. Running a week later than planned and at a different venue worked out quite well for the Beach team.

“The entire Thoroughbred racing industry should be very proud of Oaklawn Park for how they answered the call,” says Mandella. “We were in a time of need and they seized the opportunity in a big way. Obviously it was great for us because we won, but overall it was a day that saw people rally together which is always good.”

With the first Saturday in May rapidly approaching, decisions will be made as to a final prep or perhaps training up to the Derby. The Arkansas Derby back at Oaklawn is the most likely scenario. Currently sitting in the seventh spot (37.5) in the qualifying points standings, the crafty Californian will calculate his next move. Having started six horses previously but none since 2004 in the Kentucky Derby, the stars might be aligning for a man that has certainly paid the piper. In the meantime, Mandella may just bask a bit while afflicted with the fever.

“Right now I have a case of the Derby fever for sure,” chuckles Mandella. “I’m a little bit longer in the tooth now so maybe it means I’m due. We’ve got a beautiful colt with a great owner so just maybe things can come together for us. We will watch him over the next few days and then decide what we think is best for him.”

A run at that rose blanket is something that will always be good, no matter who you are.