A Decade Later, Mandella Looks Back at Breeders' Cup Grand Slam - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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A Decade Later, Mandella Looks Back at Breeders’ Cup Grand Slam

Richard Mandella will be honored along with Julie Krone by the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation

Proud though he is, Richard Mandella doesn't boast about the fact that he made racing history in 2003 when he won four of eight Breeders' Cup races.

Ten years ago this Oct. 25 at Santa Anita, Mandella accomplished perhaps the sport's greatest single-day achievement when he sent out Pleasantly Perfect to win the Classic; Johar to dead-heat for first in the Turf; Action This Day to upset in the Juvenile; and Halfbridled to capture the Juvenile Fillies.

Mandella, who turns 63 on Nov. 5, three days after the second day of Breeders' Cup races will be run at Santa Anita this year, manages to stay focused on the mundane trappings involved in the day-to-day training of a major Thoroughbred operation while adding an occasional nugget to his Hall of Fame resume.

Chances are there will be no “Grand Slam” when the Breeders' Cup World Championships are presented for the 30th time and the second of three straight years at Santa Anita, on Nov. 1 and 2. “I would bet we wouldn't win four this time,” Mandella said.

His best chance at victory should come with last year's 2-year-old filly champion Beholder, who is ticketed for the $2 million Distaff on Nov. 1, should she fare well in the Zenyatta Stakes next Saturday. The Zenyatta is one of six Grade I Breeders' Cup prep races to be run at Santa Anita the first two weekends of its 24-day meet that begins Friday, Sept. 27.

“Obviously, winning those four Breeders' Cup races pops in my head now and then,” said Mandella, who has a 10-year thing going in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. With apologies to Tom Ewell, call it “The 10-Year Itch.”

Mandella won four stakes on Breeders' Cup day at Santa Anita 20 years ago in 1993, two of them Breeders' Cup races, with Horse of the Year Kotashaan in the Turf and 2-year-old filly champion Phone Chatter in the Juvenile Fillies. He also captured two lesser stakes, the Skywalker Handicap with Region and the Smile Handicap with Memo.

“From time to time, I'm reminded of that day 10 years ago, and that's nice,” Mandella recounted. “When things aren't going well, it's a boost to remember it. I thought I had a lot of good chances that day. I felt Halfbridled should win, but being in the 14 post, I had concerns.

“She needed a good trip, which she got. Julie Krone did a masterful job getting her around there. The colt was doing great, too. I felt good about Action This Day going into the race, and he justified that. Minister Eric ran a great second to him in the same race.

“I always had the sense that Johar could win a Breeders' Cup race. We actually pushed him along pretty hard to make the race, probably more aggressively than I've ever pushed one. It got the job done but we had to share it with Aiden O'Brien and his horse (High Chaparral).

“Then Pleasantly Perfect was going to the gate in the Classic and I thought, 'Geez, we've probably used up our luck. What chance could he have?' But I always had confidence in him and he ran the race of his life. It all happened so fast I really didn't have time to dwell on it until later. I was doing my job running back and forth, but when it was over, it was pretty nice.”

Mandella is known for his self-deprecating sense of humor, but it wasn't always thus. He was born in Altadena the son of a blacksmith, so one might say pun in cheek Mandella was a shoe-in to have a career in racing. He had designs on becoming a jockey until his mid teens.

“I had to make an occupational change at about 15,” Mandella said. “I had always ridden and I dreamed of being a jockey. At 15 I grew out of that job and had to take the only alternate thing I could, and that was train horses.

“My father (Gene) was a very good horseman and he was very strong on the basic care of the horse. Hard work was very important to him.” Another dominant influence on the young Mandella was the late trainer, V.J. (Lefty) Nickerson, with whom Mandella spent 18 months as an assistant in New York in the early 1970s, Nickerson portraying the avuncular family member as well as mentor.

“Lefty kind of took my father's philosophy to another level,” Mandella said. “Lefty was a very intelligent horse trainer and a very smart man. He taught me more of the finer points and encouraged me to expose my sense of humor, which I always had. Being as young as I was and wanting to become successful as fast as I could, I tried to be very serious.

“But Lefty was quite a character and he got me to enjoy the process and keep a sense of humor about it. That made a lot of difference.”

Just as Mandella has made a difference in racing worldwide, not only at his home base of Santa Anita, which hosts the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the seventh time on the expansive green landscape draped around the majestic San Gabriel Mountains that is unique to the historic venue. This is Mandella's Camelot.

“I love Santa Anita,” said Mandella, who resides in nearby Bradbury. “I think the nickname it carries–The Great Race Place–is very fitting. With the good weather, I can't think of a better place to have the Breeders' Cup. I'm very spoiled and lucky to have it in my backyard. It's always better not to have to travel,” he said, before adding one caveat.

“But you do have to have the best horse, no matter what.”

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