Class act Mandella unspoiled by success

Sep 22, 2009 5:04 PM
Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Trainer eyes BC hit, but no grand slam

For a horsemen of international repute, Richard Mandella flies beneath the radar. The son of a blacksmith, Mandella was reared on a sound foundation of proper values and never forgets his roots. He worked for his father, Gene, at their Beaumont ranch in rural California, and was later shown the ropes at the facility of taskmaster Farrell Jones, the former jockey and trainer who exercised the fabled Seabiscuit.

In the early 1970s, Mandella spent 18 months as an assistant to his major mentor, the late V.J. (Lefty) Nickerson in New York; in 1974 took a private training job for Roger Braugh; and opened a public stable in California in 1976.

"I got to learn from some pretty good people," Mandella said. "My father was a very good horseman. I learned the basics from him, and they are the most valuable tools you can have. I never actually worked for Farrell. I worked at his ranch, but not under him, never directly for him, so we never had that much contact."

Fast forward more than 40 years and Mandella still maintains an insatiable appetite for humble pie. Even on his greatest day in more than three decades as a trainer, Mandella’s self-deprecating sense of humor was front and center. That was on Oct. 23, 2003, at Santa Anita, when he made racing history by saddling winners of four of the eight Breeders’ Cup races.

Favored Halfbridled won the Juvenile Fillies; longshot Action This Day won the Juvenile; Johar dead-heated for first in the Turf; and Pleasantly Perfect captured the Classic. The combined earnings of the four horses was $4,564,040, another record.

That won’t happen this year, when the Oak Tree Racing Association hosts the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita for the second straight year, on Nov. 6 and 7, over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface. Mandella, an early proponent of artificial surfaces, today has an open mind.

"I think we have to keep hoping we find a way to make them consistent in order to improve the game," he said, referring to Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride, Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track and Del Mar’s Polytrack. Mandella enjoyed a successful Del Mar run, winning nine races from 41 starters during the recent 37-day meet, a respectable 22 percent. He also had four seconds and six thirds, for an in-the-money percentage of .463.

Mandella’s best Breeders’ Cup hope at the moment is a 4-year-old named Crown of Thorns, who won the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes last year before being sidelined by injury. He recently ran an encouraging third in a comeback race at Del Mar. Mandella said the Dirt Mile is a possibility for the son of Repent.

"I’ve got a few other horses that are right on the edge (as far as running in Breeders’ Cup races)," said Mandella, who turns 59 on Nov. 5. "We’ll get a race into them and see if we can break through, but I don’t have any I can get too strong about right now. I’d rather not name names. It would probably bring them bad luck if I do."

There’s that aw shucks attitude again. One would think a trainer with six Breeders’ Cup wins, 17 victories in million dollar races, five training titles, five champions including 1993 Horse of the Year Kotashaan, and induction into the Hall of Fame in 2001, would take a deep breath once in a while and rest on his laurels. Not Mandella, who at one time trained a horse for the greatest basketball player ever, Wilt Chamberlain. Recalled Mandella at the time: "He was the only owner I ever had who has to duck to get under the shed row."

When asked if he ever reflects on his four Breeders’ Cup victories, Mandella had a typically understated response. "I realize the money’s about run out and I better do it again," he said with a chuckle. "As long as I’ve got the wife (Randi) and daughter (Andrea; 37-year-old son Gary is a trainer in his own right), I’ve got to keep working. Retirement’s not in the program."

And that’s good news for racing.

THE HOMESTRETCH

Leading jockey Joel Rosario will have a hearing before California Horse Racing Board stewards Oct. 2 at Santa Anita to answer a complaint alleging he "did not put forward his best effort riding the horse (Cedros) to the finish line" in the last race at Del Mar on Sept. 6. Cedros, trained by John Glenney, was 4-1 in the 11/16-mile race and finished fourth … I watched television for 32 minutes last Tuesday and didn’t see Obama. Get me Guinness … Lookalikes: Mark Teijeira and Barry Bond … At minus $4,800, Wolf Blitzer on celebrity "Jeopardy" finished with the lowest negative score in memory. Maybe he should stay in the Situation Room.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden