As Richard Mandella reflected in 2017 on his magnificent training career, he said that he drew greater motivation from fear of failure than aspirations of greatness.
“I never had any great dreams about what it actually became. Hall of Fame and all of that, it never entered my mind,” he said. “I just wanted to be some kind of success.”
Mandella, now 71, was born in Altadena, Calif., and grew up around horses since his father, Gene, was a blacksmith. He learned invaluable lessons at his father’s side and by working as a teenager at Three Rings Ranch, near his family’s home. He was a keen observer and retained everything he saw.
“It’s always helped me a lot. That experience would always be the foundation I had,” Mandella said. “We were always breaking [introducing to the basics of horse racing] horses. We got older horses with injuries and I learned a lot about that.”
He continued his development by journeying to New York to work as an assistant to Lefty Nickerson before he took out his trainer’s license at age 23. He cites his ability to manage injuries as one of the keys to his rise to prominence.
“Learning when to stop on injuries has always been valuable to me being where I am,” Mandella said. “Stop before you ruin them, that is the most important thing.”
The payoff for Mandella’s willingness to take his time with horses has been immense. Despite having only 48 Breeders’ Cup entrants, he owns nine victories and ranks ninth all-time in earnings with $12,996,960.
He enjoyed one of the most remarkable afternoons in racing history when he swept four of a possible eight Breeders' Cup races at his home base of Santa Anita Park in 2003. He dominated the 2-year-old ranks when Action This Day took the Juvenile and Julie Krone became the first female jockey to guide a Breeders’ Cup winner when Halfbridled overcame an extreme outside post in the Juvenile Fillies.
In one of the most scintillating finishes in the history of the championship event, Mandella trainee Johar finished in a dead-heat with High Chaparral for first in the Turf with Falbrav another nose back in third in a blanket finish that produced a nerve-wracking wait for the photo. The trainer capped his extraordinary day when longshot Pleasantly Perfect, who would go on to capture the Dubai World Cup, rose to the occasion in the Classic.
Mandella admits he never saw that monumental achievement coming. “I had a lot of nice horses who were in great shape, but they were competitive races,” he said. “They had to step up to do it, and they surely did.”
It all happened so quickly as Mandella hurried to the paddock to saddle each horse, to the winner’s circle, and back to the paddock again. He found himself in breathless disbelief when the whirlwind was over.
“I couldn’t imagine that all happened,” he said. “I was just thinking how much I appreciate the people I train for and the horses I had.”
Mandella decided to cut back on the size of his operation when he turned 60 years old, ensuring that he can be as hands on as he wants to be. That should not be taken as a sign he will retire any time soon.
“I’m still enjoying this,” he said.
Note: This story was originally published in October 2017 and has been updated.
- Provided last of Laffit Pincay’s record seven winners (Bedouin) at Santa Anita on March 15, 1987.
- Figured in another Pincay mark by saddling Irish Nip when Pincay rode his 8,834thwinner at old Hollywood Park on Dec. 10, 1999.
- Was introduced by Allen Jerkens, a trainer he long admired, when he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2001.
- Son, Gary, began training on his own in 2002.
- Has keen interest in history of sport and owns extensive racing library.