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Randy Harvey

Don't Tell Mandella, but This Was More Than a Good Day

October 26, 2003|Randy Harvey

Richard Mandella had just won the Juvenile Fillies, the second race on the Breeders' Cup card, when someone asked the Hall of Fame trainer if he sensed he was about to have one of those magical days.

Like the one he had the last time the Breeders' Cup was at Santa Anita 10 years ago.

"I don't want to talk about it," said Mandella, who believes that, no matter how good his horses are, how well he has trained them, how well they're ridden, how perfectly the track is set up for them, they are still at the mercy of the racing gods.

On a day when the temperature fell just short of 100, when the haze from the nearby fires obscured the San Gabriel Mountains, lightning couldn't strike again. Could it?

Jockey Alex Solis, who had rides on two of Mandella's Breeders' Cup horses, thought it could. He thought it was entirely possible that Mandella would have the kind of day he had in 1993, when he won four races on the program, two in the Breeders' Cup.

Not that he dared mention it to Mandella.

"I tell you one thing I didn't want to say to him because I know he's very superstitious, you know," Solis said. "But for the last three weeks that we have been training the horses, I come and work [with] him and see the job he was doing. And I didn't want to say anything to him because I know him real well.

"I saw how the horses were coming to race every week, they were getting stronger and stronger and better and better. Of course, I didn't want to say that to him because he is a little loco."

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It turned out to be a Pleasantly Perfect day for Mandella, especially after a horse of that name, a 14-1 shot under Solis, won the $4-million Classic to give the trainer his fourth Breeders' Cup win of the day.

The only trainer who had won as many as three in one day was Wayne Lukas in 1988 at Churchill Downs. In 20 years, only five other trainers have won four or more Breeders' Cup races in their careers. Mandella now has six, all at Santa Anita.

"I think they ought to just move it here myself," he said.

Mandella, 52, whose Barn 6 at Santa Anita once belonged to the late, legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham, has been involved in some of the most important moments in California racing history.

He won six consecutive million-dollar races in 1996, including Dare And Go's upset of Cigar in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He had a 1-2-3 finish with Siphon, Sandpit and Gentlemen in the 1997 Santa Anita Handicap. In December 1999 at Hollywood Park, he gave the ride on Irish Nip to Laffit Pincay Jr., whose win on the horse was the record-breaking 8,834th of the jockey's career.

Now this.

"I don't know how to describe it," Mandella said after the Classic. "The day I won four here last time, if I would have known I was going to do it, I could have really enjoyed it and had a great day with it.

"But I was in shock all day, and, by the time I came out of the shock and figured out what I did, everybody had gone home.

"And I'm still in shock here ... I didn't believe this could happen again. But it happened bigger and better."

Within the history was more history. Julie Krone became the first female jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race when she rode Mandella's Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies. He became one of the few trainers to finish 1-2 in the same race, with Action This Day and Minister Eric in the Juvenile. His Johar finished the Turf at exactly the same moment as High Chaparral, the first time there has been a dead heat in a Breeders' Cup race.

He could afford to laugh while waiting nervously for the photo during the 13 minutes it took to review it when Solis, who rode Johar, told him, "You had him a little short."

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Mandella could afford a lot of things. While growing up as the son of a blacksmith in Beaumont, Mandella couldn't envision his horses earning $4,564,040. Not in a lifetime. Not in a year. Certainly not in one day. Lukas had the Breeders' Cup record before Saturday, with $2,133,000 in 1988.

In the post-Classic news conference underneath the grandstands, Mandella thanked his father Gene, who died last year after a long battle with Alzheimer's.

"He was a great man that only worked and loved horses," he said. "He just worked to pay for the horses he had. Never made any money at it. Enough to make a decent living ... I wish he was here to see this, but he got to see some other good days we had."

He also thanked his mentor as a trainer, Lefty Nickerson.

"It was just one of those magnetic or magical things that happen when you meet somebody and a light goes on and this man tells you everything," Mandella said, "the answer to every question you ever had in your life without even asking it. He's a second father to me."

They taught him well.

Gerald J. Ford, the Dallas banker (not the former president) who owns Perfectly Pleasant and Minister Eric, described Mandella's best attributes as "thorough dedication, impeccable integrity ... and he loves the horses. They're all individual personalities to him. I don't always see or hear that."

Mandella also thanked the man upstairs, although it was unclear whether he was referring to the man upstairs or the reporter who startled him by asking a question over the intercom from the press box.

"I knew he was looking at me upstairs, but I didn't know he was going to really speak," Mandella said.

He left the news conference to see another of his horses, Redattore, run in the 11th, after the Breeders' Cup program. Mandella, of course, wouldn't talk about him. Redattore finished third anyway. But Gold Sphinx, trained by Mandella's son Gary, won the 12th, as the sun began to set on a perfectly pleasant day.

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Randy Harvey can be reached at randy.harvey@latimes.com

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