By Jay Hovdey
When he was a teenager, growing up near the California town of Beaumont, Richard Mandella would start each day before dawn, break yearlings at Three Rings Ranch, then return to Three Rings in the afternoon to complete his list of chores. In between he went to school.
By the time she was 16, Julie Krone had spent more than half her life winning blue ribbons in Western Michigan horse shows and was more than ready to throw her leg over something a whole lot faster, even if it meant leaving high school early to pursue her dream.
Mandella was aided and abetted in his growing passion by his father, Gene Mandella, an all-around horseman and professional farrier. Later, he was inspired to even greater ambition working for V.J. “Lefty” Nickerson, whose iconoclastic personality and no-nonsense approach to training Thoroughbreds found a receptive student in the young Californian.
Krone was a prodigy in the saddle, but only because she paid close attention to her mother, Judi Krone, whose ability to train any horse to do anything was legendary. Once at the track, Krone’s skills were refined by trainers like John Forbes and Jonathan Sheppard, who knew there was more to being a great jockey than simply getting there first.
Mandella sent out his first winner under his own name in 1974 while training privately for Texan Roger Braugh. Two years later, Mandella hung out his shingle as a public trainer, and in 1981 his runners hit the million-dollar mark for the first time in season earnings. Finishing just one notch above Mandella in the final 1981 purse standings was his idol, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens.
That same year, on Lincoln’s birthday, Julie Krone rode her first official winner as an apprentice jockey at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. The horse was named Lord Farkle. He was very tall and not very fast, but he was the first of Krone’s 124 winners that year, a total placing her ninth on the list of leading North American apprentices that included Stewart Elliott, Ricky Frazier, Jack Kaenel and Richie Migliore.
Krone went on to take riding titles at Belmont Park, Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park, Atlantic City and the Meadowlands, while winning such major events as the Belmont Stakes, the Molson Million, the Man o’ War, the Vosburgh, the Flower Bowl, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Sword Dancer aboard horses like Colonial Affair, Tale of the Cat, Housebuster, Safely Kept, Rubiano, Saint Ballado and Royal Mountain Inn. She competed head-to-head against a galaxy of Hall of Fame jockeys: Angel Cordero, Jerry Bailey, Randy Romero, Eddie Maple, Jorge Velasquez, Jose Santos and Mike Smith.
Out West, Mandella was in his own deep water, pitting his skills against Charlie Whittingham, Wayne Lukas, Gary Jones and Bobby Frankel. He rose to the challenge with a career that maintained an upward trajectory all through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s thanks to runners like Phone Trick, Soul of the Matter, Gentlemen, Siphon, Sandpit, Afternoon Deelites and champions Phone Chatter and Kotashaan, who won most of the best races—including the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and a pair of Breeders’ Cups.
In 2000, Julie Krone was inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Jonathan Sheppard made the presentation.
In 2001, Krone was joined in the Hall by Richard Mandella. He was introduced by Allen Jerkens.
That Mandella and Krone eventually would join forces as a formidable team was not inevitable, but it did make perfect sense. Paths cross for good reasons, other than blind chance. Krone stopped riding in 1999 and relocated to Los Angeles, where she went to work for TVG. Two years later, when she began thinking of a California comeback, she naturally gravitated to the Mandella stable, where good horses went to get even better.
The trainer was skeptical. Sure, Krone was a Sports Illustrated cover girl and ESPN Female Athlete of the Year. But East Coast jockeys came and went in California like the wind. Here was another one, with nothing but a stack of news clips and two years on the ground.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Mandella said after Krone had begun to exercise his horses during the summer of 2001. “It wasn’t too long, though, before I saw what the fuss was all about.”
As for Krone, she felt right at home under Mandella’s wing.
“It was like being back with Allen Jerkens or Jonathan Sheppard,” she said.
After another Del Mar summer riding out for Mandella, Krone resumed her career in October of 2002 at Santa Anita. Mandella confessed later he was a little nervous giving the 39-year-old jockey a leg up that afternoon, while Krone owned up to her own stomach full of butterflies. But the filly she was on didn’t know better, and their fourth-place finish coming down the hillside turf course was just what the doctor ordered to shake off the cobwebs.
By the summer of 2003, Krone had established herself among the leading jockeys of the West, despite a back injury suffered early in the year that knocked her out for three months. As for Mandella, he was already deep into what would turn out to be the greatest season of his career.
It was at Del Mar one day in late July of 2003 that Mandella introduced Krone to a tall, bay filly who looked a lot older than she was. Over the next three months they made history. Halfbridled, a daughter of Derby winner Unbridled, won all four of her races as a 2-year-old, including the Del Mar Debutante, the Oak Leaf Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to be voted champion of her division.
Halfbridled was the star of Krone’s magical summer of 2003 at Del Mar, during which she also won the Del Mar Futurity, the San Clemente, and the Pacific Classic for Sid and Jenny Craig aboard Candy Ride.
Krone’s victory in the 2003 Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita was the beginning of Mandella’s finest afternoon as a trainer. Once Halfbridled’s win was safely in the books, Mandella came right back to win the Juvenile with Action This Day. He had to settle for a dead-heat for the win with Johar in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but the Breeders’ Cup Classic was all his when Pleasantly Perfect came flying home under Alex Solis.
Headline writers had a field day. No woman had ever won a Breeders’ Cup race on the championship program, and no trainer had ever won four Breeders’ Cup races on the big afternoon.
Whether or not the Mandella-Krone team could have gone on indefinitely is a matter of speculation. Six weeks after the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Krone was injured again in an accident at Hollywood Park. She tried making a comeback in early 2004, but her broken jockey body had run out of chances. Reluctantly, she stepped away from her profession, with 3,704 winners to her credit, and had to settle for cheering on Mandella from the sidelines.
He did not disappoint her, or his fans. In 2004, he realized his dream of winning the Dubai World Cup when Pleasantly Perfect took his best race to the Middle East. In 2005, the trainer won his third Santa Anita Handicap with Rock Hard Ten. In 2006, Mandella ticked off another important box when The Tin Man led wire-to-wire to win the Arlington Million. In 2012 and 2013, he trained the filly Beholder to win back-to-back national championships as the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Along the way, Mandella served his fellow horsemen and horsewomen as a member of the California Horse Racing Board’s committee supervising the study of necropsy data from fatal racing injuries. Mandella also joined the board of directors of the charitable Oak Tree Racing Association, the widely respected organization that survived its loss of a venue at Santa Anita to be born again during the summer of 2014 at the Pleasanton meet in Northern California.
Krone, meanwhile, keeps her hand in the Thoroughbred world as a speaker at industry-related and corporate events, while at the same time sharing her love of the horse with a lucky collection of young students who are getting a true Hall of Fame education. Her finest work, however, is reserved as the mother of Lorelei Judith Krone, a foal of 2005, who shows all promise of her mother on horseback, and all of her father’s height.
That would be me, the lucky husband of Julie and father of Lorelei. And as interesting as that sounds, I also have been fortunate as the chronicler of Richard Mandella’s remarkable career from the moment at Santa Anita in March of 1973, when Nickerson took the rest of the stable back to New York, leaving stable star Big Spruce Stakes in the care his 22-year-old assistant to train for the prestigious San Luis Rey Stakes. Big Spruce won by 10, beating, among others, turf champion Cougar II.
The fact that Mandella and Krone are lending their names and considerable reputations to the fund-raising efforts of the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation speaks volumes of their commitment to the welfare of the people who work behind the racetrack scenes. The scholarships provided by the Foundation to the children of backstretch employees can be a priceless ticket to whatever life they choose, because not everyone is lucky enough to have teachers like Gene Mandella, Lefty Nickerson, Jonathan Sheppard and Judi Krone light the way.
Breeders’ Cup Wins
Classic (GI)—Pleasantly Perfect (2003-OT); Classic (GI)—Pleasantly Perfect (2003-OT); Distaff (GI) — Beholder (2013-SA); Juvenile (GI)—Action This Day (2003-OT); Juvenile Fillies (GI)—Phone Chatter (1993-OT); Halfbridled (2003-OT); Beholder (2012-SA) Turf (GI)—Kotashaan (1993-OT); Johar (2003-OT-DH)
Career wins: 3,704 Major Racing Wins: Gallant Fox Handicap (1987), Gravesend Handicap (1987) Oceanport Handicap (1987, 1997), Cornhusker Handicap (1988), Bed O’ Roses Breeders’ Cup Handicap (1988), Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (1988), Maryland Million Classic (1989) Excelsior Breeders’ Cup Handicap (1989), Yaddo Handicap (1989), Withers Stakes (1991) Arlington Classic (1992), Saratoga Special Stakes (1992), Vosburgh Stakes (1992), Jaipur Stakes (1992), Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (1992, 1994), Diana Handicap (1993), Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap (1993), Man O’ War Stakes (1994) John A. Morris Handicap (1994), Honorable Miss Handicap (1994), Woodbine Mile (1995), Demoiselle Stakes (1995) Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (1995, 1996), Carter Handicap (1996) Vagrancy Handicap (1996), Sky Classic Stakes (1996), Sabin Stakes (1998), Malibu Stakes (2002), Pacific Classic Stakes (2003), Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (2002 & 2003), Moccasin Stakes (2003), Del Mar Debutante Stakes (2003) San Clemente Handicap (2003), Del Mar Futurity (2003) Oak Leaf Stakes (2003), Citation Handicap (2003), Hollywood Derby (2003), Belmont Stakes (1993), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (2003)
International race wins: Dominion Day Stakes (1988), Manitoba Derby (1988), Molson Million (1995)
Racing Awards: Big Sport of Turfdom Award (1988) ESPY Award for Best U.S. Female Athlete (1994) Wilma Rudolph Courage Award (2004)
Significant Horses: Candy Ride, Colonial Affair, Da Hoss, Halfbridled, Peaks and Valleys, Royal Mountain Inn, Sweet Return, Rubiano, Safely Kept, Housebuster, Lite the Fuse