Mangold’s success as jockey is no act

Jan 8, 2002 1:17 AM

No one could blame Kevin Mangold if his perception of horse racing was right out of  “A Day at the Races.”

At age 26, Mangold was more familiar with the Marx Brothers than he was with the Sport of Kings. He had acted nearly all his life, so when he decided to become a jockey, he simply showed up at Santa Anita one day and asked if anyone needed an exercise rider. The fact that he had never ridden a horse before was no deterrent.

“I was as green as grass,” said Mangold, who is well on his way to fulfilling his goal. Presently, he is an apprentice rider based at Santa Anita, sharing the jockeys’ room with the likes of Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye and Gary Stevens, among others. Talk about a dream come true.

“I started out doing commercials when I was real young,” said Mangold, who hails from a town in northern California called Susanville, 80 miles west of Reno. He has appeared in sitcoms such as Silver Spoons with Ricky Schroder, Highway to Heaven (with the late Michael Landon), Saved by the Bell, and Ellen (with Ellen Degeneres).

“I toured on Broadway in Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby for almost two years,” Mangold said. “And I was in a movie with Angela Lansbury called Mrs. Santa Claus, where I played an elf, of course.”

At 5-1 and 107 pounds, and blessed with a look of perpetual youth, Mangold was in danger of being typecast for life.

“Even when I was 20, I could play a 12-year-old,” said Mangold, now 28. “I was playing little tiny kids, because I wasn’t just small; I looked like a kid. But as I got into my mid-20’s, those parts disappeared and all I could play was an elf or a jockey. I was typecast, so the acting work sort of dwindled, but I’m glad it did, because I’ve always wanted to ride horses. I think if I had waited even one more year, I would have been told I was too old.

“I was 26 when I finally decided I better try riding or it was going to be too late. So about two years ago, I just came out to Clockers’ Corner at Santa Anita and asked if anybody needed an exercise boy. Obviously, that was the wrong thing (to say). The trainers asked if I’d ever been on a horse and I told them I was on a quarter horse when I was seven. That didn’t work out too well.

“Eventually, I talked to Wayne Lukas and he told me to give it a shot if I really wanted to do it. He recommended I go a jockeys’ school, and that’s what I did. I went to Frank Garza’s jockey school in Thousand Oaks. (The late) J.C. Gonzalez and (Bay Area-based) Francisco Duran came out of there. Eight months later, after I finished with jockeys’ school, I came to work for Lukas, galloping horses for him at Santa Anita, but only for a month, if that. Then he sent me to Churchill where I galloped for him there.”

Mangold worked his way south from Susanville when he attended USC as a film major. “College brought me to LA and I’ve lived there since I was17,” he said. “But I’ve wanted to be a jockey my whole life, and the only reason I didn’t do it before this was because I was acting. I had other things going on.” The “other things” included a stop in an orphanage at age five when his mother died of a brain aneurysm. He was in 14 foster homes after that and eventually worked as an actor to earn his degree from USC.

Mangold, whose business is handled by long-time agent Vic Lipton, has ridden seven winners as an apprentice. As a “bug” rider, he presently receives a seven-pound weight advantage from his journeymen peers. His apprenticeship will continue for another 11 months.

At the moment, Mangold is enjoying the best of both worlds. Not only is he a jockey, he is hoping to strut his stuff as an actor again.

“I’m under consideration for a Visa commercial, right here at Santa Anita,” Mangold said. “I’ll ride a horse in it. I won’t get any name value credit for it, just exposure. They’ll see my face. If I were Tiger Woods, there’d be recognition value, plus a lot more money. As it is, I’ll receive the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) minimum, but since I’ve done work before, I’ll get more than the minimum.”

Mangold’s first win came on a horse named Quick Twist at Turf Paradise for trainer Jack Hammond last July. His first victory in Southern California came at Hollywood Park last Dec. 17, aboard Maura’s Diamond.

“I honestly don’t think winning will ever get any different than it was the first time,” Mangold said. “It was incredible. I wanted to jump up and down and yell, and I’ve won seven now and they’ve all been the same way. Maybe 30 years from now I’ll feel differently.”

If he does, he won’t be acting.

HOMESTRETCH: Newest face in the Triple Crown picture is Got The Message, impressive four-length maiden winner on Dec. 30 at Santa Anita. The California-bred son of Memo won on cruise control under Laffit Pincay Jr. after rallying from far back in the 6½-furlong sprint. Is he on the Kentucky Derby trail? “Absolutely,” said trainer Bill Spawr. “We’ll think that way and just hope he stays sound and we get there. We’ll probably get him to his conditions for some experience. But he ran like he already has experience. I’d like to get another race in him for some more experience, and there’s supposed to be a race for him in three or four weeks, at a distance between 6½ furlongs to a mile, but mile race are hard to come by.” On his sensational start at Santa Anita, with nine wins in the first nine days, Spawr says he’s gotten out of the gate that fast before, “but never kept it going.”

 . . . Good news, bad news: the much-anticipated U.S. debut of Beat Hollow is imminent, says Bobby Frankel, odds-on to earn his second consecutive Eclipse Award as top trainer. The good news is, Frankel says he’ll find a spot for him “in a race he can’t lose.”

The bad news is Beat Hollow is likely to be 2-5. He was favored to win the 2000 Epsom Derby and among the horses he vanquished in Europe are 2000 Arc de Triomphe winner Sinndar and last year’s Arc winner, Sakhee, who was beaten a nose by Tiznow in last year’s stirring Breeders’ Cup Classic.