2023 Honor Guest -
Richard Mandella


2023 Thoroughbred Club of America Testimonial Dinner
Honoring Richard Mandella

Richard Mandella has been selected by the Board of Directors of the Thoroughbred Club of America as the 2023 Honor Guest, Club President Charlie Boden announced today. "The Thoroughbred Club of America is delighted to name Richard Mandella as its 2023 Honor Guest", said Boden. “Richard is a shining example of what past generations traditionally thought of when they considered what a great trainer is - a real “throwback” who has never had more than 40 horses in his barn.  He is steadfast in his care of the animal with a long view of what that animal could accomplish if given the time to flourish.  His care for the horses in his barn is matched by his support of the people who he employs to take such good care of them. He is a consummate professional in every aspect of his trade evidenced by his exemplary integrity record and his body of work as is shown by the great horses he has had his hands on.  His unheralded service to the industry by his continued support of entities devoted to the welfare of the horse is also exemplary. A Hall of Fame inductee in 2001 and the trainer of 9 Breeders’ Cup winners to date, his acceptance of our honor fills a frame on our wall which will make every member of The Thoroughbred Club of America proud.”   
Mr. Mandella will be honored by the Club at its 92nd Testimonial Dinner, which will be held at Keeneland on Friday, November 17th, 2023.
Richard Mandella’s journey to the Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame began in Beaumont, California, a rural outpost to the east of Los Angeles where his father, Gene Mandella, was the go-to farrier for a number of local farms. Gene’s son, born Nov. 5, 1950, was naturally drawn to the equine world, juggling high school and hard work at the Three Rings Ranch of George and Connie Ring just long enough to discover he could make some kind of career out of his emerging talent with temperamental Thoroughbreds.
Early on, Mandella found a kindred spirit in V.J. “Lefty” Nickerson, a New York-based trainer who hired the young Californian as an assistant. When Nickerson returned to the East in the spring of 1973, he left Mandella in charge of a few horses at Santa Anita. Mandella responded by saddling Elmendorf Farm’s classy Big Spruce to win the prestigious San Luis Rey Stakes by 10 lengths, leaving turf champion Cougar II in his wake.
By the end of 1974, Mandella was training privately for breeder Roger Braugh. Two years later, at the urging of Dr. Buck Wynne, Jr., Mandella went public. In 1977, he broke through with graded stakes victories by the California-breds Bad n’ Big and Now Pending. By 1981 his stable earnings topped the million-dollar mark. The momentum was undeniable.
Even in a training colony that included Charlie Whittingham, Bobby Frankel, Wayne Lukas, and Ron McAnally, Mandella was making his presence felt. Owners such as Maxwell Gluck, Marty Wygod, John C. Mabee, R.D. Hubbard, Jonabell Farm, and Herman Sarkowsky were early Mandella adopters, later to be joined by Gerald J. Ford, Claiborne Farm, Alain and Pierre Wertheimer, Rick Porter, Ramona Bass, Burt Bacharach, and B. Wayne Hughes. Such owners brought with them future major winners and champions including Kotashaan, Beholder, Phone Chatter, Gentlemen, Halfbridled, Pleasantly Perfect, and Omaha Beach.
The first trainer on the Thoroughbred Club’s list of Honor Guests is James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, cited in 1955 for his work with the likes of Gallant Fox, Omaha, and Nashua, as well as living up to his nickname. Mandella is the 10th trainer so honored, along with Whittingham, Lukas, Preston Burch, Horatio Luro, Woody Stephens, Alec Head, MacKenzie Miller, and Shug McGaughey, who was the Honor Guest in 2013.
Unique in the record of Mandella is sending out both dead heat winners of a Grade 1 Stakes, which he accomplished with Beautiful Melody and Reluctant Guest in the 1990 Beverly Hills Handicap. Other extraordinary accomplishments by Mandella include winning four Breeders' Cup races on a single program and guiding one horse (Beholder) through four championship seasons.
The trainer attained Hall of Fame status in 2001, some noting with surprise that he made it to the hallowed walls in Saratoga Springs without winning a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness, or a Belmont Stakes. Mandella already had answered by taking a sweeping array of major stakes from coast to coast, including such historic prizes as the Metropolitan Handicap, Haskell Invitational, Early Times Turf Classic, Donn Handicap, Ballerina Stakes, Oaklawn Handicap, and the Pimlico Special, while back home in California he was winning an amazing six straight million-dollar races annually based in the state – two versions each of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic – between 1996 and 1998. Inspired by his induction, Mandella has gone on to win a Dubai World Cup and add to his current total of nine Breeders’ Cup victories.
Mandella also brings to his role as 2023’s Honor Guest a reputation as a passionate advocate for the sport that has given him so much. His time as the long-serving chairman of the Necropsy Committee of the California Horse Racing Board has led to enlightening discoveries in equine injuries. He is a director of the Oak Tree Racing Association, which operated a charitable meeting in California for four decades. He is a steady supporter of organizations like CARMA, which funds Thoroughbred retirement and retraining, and the Gregson Foundation, a leading source of college scholarships for the children of backstretch workers.
Mandella and his wife, Randi, have passed on their commitment to racing to the next generation. Their son, Gary Mandella, is his father’s chief assistant and a stakes-winning trainer in his own right, while their daughter, Andrea Birkman, previously served as director of development and donor relations for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and currently owns a home furnishings boutique in Lexington, Ky.
“I can’t express how proud I am to receive this honor,” Mandella said. “I would like to thank the owners who have allowed me to train their horses and the great people that I’ve had working for me through all the years. I especially want to thank my family for allowing me to devote the time to do something I truly love.
“As for the horses,” Mandella added, “it’s no real secret. The faster the better. And I’ve found the better they are, the more they’re able to understand my training.”
For 92 years, The Thoroughbred Club of America Annual Testimonial Dinner has honored persons who have rendered distinguished service to the sport of Thoroughbred racing. To learn more about The Thoroughbred Club of America, visit us online at www.thethoroughbredclub.com. For tickets to the November 17th Testimonial Dinner, please call (859) 254-4282.