Mandella's 'Perfect' day
Special to ESPN.com
It wasn't just that he won four Breeders' Cup races. People have had big days here before and will have big days again. With so many mega-stables out there, so many good horses, it's not that surprising that someone won four Breeders' Cup events. Most thought it would be Bobby Frankel. It turned out to be Richard Mandella.
But Mandella did it the hard way, not with a Frankel-like roster of superstars, but with a solid contingent of horses who needed his expertise. He took a moderate hand, had them shuffle the deck and came up with four aces. That's what made this the greatest training accomplishment in Breeders' Cup history, if not the most impressive training feat ever.
Halfbridled was supposed to win the Juvenile Fillies, even with the 14 post. She had proven her class and talents three times--all of them wins, two of them in stakes. But there really wasn't anything to like about Action This Day (Juvenile), Johar (Turf) and Pleasantly Perfect (Classic). They were nice horses. But nice horses aren't supposed to win Breeders' Cup races. That is unless they are trained by someone with immense talents in the midst of one very hot afternoon.
"The fear of losing is greater than the thrill of winning," Mandella said. "With a horse like Halfbridled, you worry about everything that can go wrong, whether you did everything right and whether or not everything is in place. The others weren't favorites. That made it more fun. I didn't feel like the world would come apart if they didn't win. That made for some great pleasure the rest of the day."
Action This Day was coming off a maiden win, taking the impossible step in class into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It may not have been the best field ever assembled for this race, but there was little reason to believe he had a chance. There were supposed to be far better horses in this field than the one who had won just once, did so by a nose and had never run in a stakes race.
The second-best horse in the race also belonged to Mandella. Minister Eric, a horse who had never gone two turns in his life and had never won a stakes race, finished second.
There was no reason to believe that Johar could compete with an international cast of stars in the Turf. He had never run a mile and a half in his 14-race career and he blew an open lead in his last start, the Clement Hirsch, fading late to finish second behind Storming Home.
Mandella knew he had to change his tactics. Johar just was not comfortable on the lead; he needed a target, someone to chase. So Mandella told jockey Alex Solis to take him back and make one run. It worked to perfection and they stormed down the center of the turf course and caught the European star High Chaparral at the wire to finish in a dead heat for the win.
The only reason to like Pleasantly Perfect in the Classic was the Mandella factor. He was a horse who had never proven himself at this level. He had won a couple of Grade II races, but failed when he had tried spots like the Santa Anita Handicap and the Pacific Classic. Mandella knew he had a talented horse and never gave up on winning the four-million dollar race. The key was getting him there right.
Pleasantly Perfect sat out seven months before Mandella got him back on track and back to the races. He had a perfect prep in the Goodwood, winning there and earning his way to the Classic. On the day it mattered, Mandella had him primed, ready to run the race of his life and beat more acclaimed horses like Congaree, Medaglia d'Oro and Funny Cide.
The victory also provided Pleasantly Perfect and Mandella with a sweet bit of revenge. He was forced out of the Classic last year because of Illinois racing regulations that created a mess of red tape after he had a bleeding incident prior to the race.
When it was over, Mandella had collected four trophies and his horses had earned $4,564,040, easily a one-day record for a stable. He never could have imagined he could top his Breeders' Cup day in 1993, when he won two Breeders' Cup races and two other stakes.
"I don't know how to describe this," he said. "Like I said before, when I won four races here last time at the Breeders' Cup, I'm not sure I was able to really enjoy it. I was in shock all day and by the time I came out of shock, everybody had gone home. I'm still in shock now. I didn't believe it could ever happen again. Yet it happened, bigger and better."
Bobby Frankel still has the numbers and the biggest and best stable in the country, but the Eclipse Award that was all but his entering the day no longer is certain to go to him. These are the days when trainers must perform and Frankel failed again in spectacular fashion . He was 0- for-8, losing with four favorites. For those keeping score at home, Frankel is 2-for-57 in the Breeders' Cup. Mandella deserves the Eclipse, his just reward for a fantastic day when he made racing history and did it the hard way.