Thursday, June 26, 2008

Richard (Dick) Mandella and an Inland Empire perspective on horse racing fatalities

Earlier this week, Sharon Cobb wrote a post that talked about an Associated Press study. This study identified 5,000 thoroughbred horses that had died since 2003.

5,000. That works out to a rate of over 3 horses per day.

But then, in my personal blog, I linked to a Washington Post story that noted that they only had records for 5,000 deaths. Some states and racetracks don't even keep track of horse deaths, so the 5,000 death estimate is low.

Well, I did some further research, and found this KPCC story that casts a local light on the subject.

[Molly] Peterson: Hall of Fame trainer Dick Mandella is from Beaumont in the Inland Empire. He's turned out more than a hundred stakes winners, including six million-dollar races in a row. He cuts a route each morning between his barns at Santa Anita and the rail just past Clockers' Corner, where he keeps his eyes and a digital stopwatch glued to horses working out....

[Dick] Mandella: See the horse galloping with the pony over there on the other side? Mainly just keeping him with the pony to make sure he stays under control, and doesn't get all excited and take off and then injure the foot we've healed, 'cause it's not strong enough yet to take any real punishment.

Peterson then addresses a change in the California horse racing tracks:

Peterson: Two summers ago, seven horses went down in the first seven days of racing at Del Mar. State racing officials now require synthetic surfaces where dirt tracks had been.

The impact?

Peterson:Dr. [Rick] Arthur [of the State Racing Board] says with synthetic tracks in place, bone injuries are down 50%, and race day injuries that require euthanasia now happen only half as often.

So will synthetic tracks be adopted in other states? Maybe, maybe not.

Peterson: Industry handicappers also say whether synthetic tracks catch on in other states could depend on the handle, or betting pool, at California tracks. If betting's up, other states might welcome the synthetic surfaces....

Peterson: But with new tracks and new rules in California, some trainers have sent their horses to New York or Kentucky. Dick Mandella says he's not going anywhere.

Mandella: Some people get crazy, some people get curious, but you don't change anything in this game very easy.

Peterson: After the Triple Crown, horseracing's next major event is the Breeder's Cup in October. It's a full day of racing on national TV that'll feature the nation's top thoroughbreds. They'll be running at Santa Anita, on a synthetic track.

So I guess that if you want to make horse's lives better, you should encourage California gambling.

I was searching for additional information on Mandella, and ran across this 2007 article:

The procedure, a digital surgical neurectomy, commonly known as heel nerving, was performed on the horse Refinery July 15, 2006, by Dr. Rick Arthur. On Dec. 2, 2006, Refinery ran in a $50,000 claiming race at Hollywood Park, and was claimed from owner [B. Wayne] Hughes and trainer [Richard] Mandella by [Leslie W.] Blake, through trainer Dan MacFarlane. When Blake and MacFarlane brought the horse to Arizona and entered him in a stakes race at Turf Paradise, they were informed Refinery could not run in the state, which bans any horse that has been heel nerved.

There is no such ban against the procedure in California. "I will not take a beating on this because I have not done anything wrong," stated Mandella. "We always thought he was a better horse than he showed, so we did a nuclear scan that showed a cyst-like spot at the end of his coffin bone. We thought the procedure might make a difference. The fact is, he ran just about the same after the procedure as he had before." Refinery was claimed in his fifth race back following the procedure.

"It has always been legal in California, and the procedure is no danger to the horse," said Mandella. "I have been the chairman of the necropsy study since its inception here 15 years ago, and I've never heard the words 'heel nerve' come up in any discussion about why horses break down. And we study 200-300 cases a year. In addition, in my 32 years of training, I've never correlated a horse breaking down with heel nerving. It's like getting a root canal for a tooth. It doesn't mean you can't taste or feel your lips, it means the tooth that was hurting doesn't hurt anymore. There's just a small portion of the foot they can't feel, but they know where their foot is going." Mandella added that Refinery's problem was uncommon, adding that he's only tried it on "a couple" of horses in his training career.

The National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame has a biography of Mandella:

Known as one of the nicest guys in racing, Richard Mandella maintains a stable on the West Coast but has won major stakes all over the country. Through 2000 he had won 1,447 races or 17% of his starts for earnings of $80,394,048. He has trained two champions: 1993 Horse of the Year Kotashaan and 1993 2-year-old champion filly Phone Chatter.

Mandella is a California native and the son of a blacksmith. While still in high school Mandella began breaking and galloping horses for Connie Ring. He spent 18 months as an assistant to trainer Lefty Nickerson in New York in the early 1970s before leaving to work as a private trainer for Roger Braugh in 1974. Mandella opened his public stable in California in 1976 and had his first major stakes winner the following year with Bad N'Big.

Richard Mandella had one of his best years in 1993 when he saddled Kotashaan to win the Breeders' Cup Turf and Phone Chatter to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Both horses received Eclipse Awards at the end of the season.

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