07/23/2012 3:22PM

Del Mar: Lucinda Mandella proves tough to keep down

Benoit & Associates
Mobilized, with Rafael Bejarano riding, wins the Tiznow.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Lucinda Mandella stood on a balcony overlooking the Del Mar paddock early on Sunday morning, watching one of her husband Gary’s horses as it walked toward the track for exercise.

Such mornings have been commonplace for the 38-year-old Mandella for more than a decade – as Gary’s wife, a former executive with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and, for the last 18 months, as the executive director of the California Retirement Management Account, or CARMA, a non-profit that seeks funding for retired racehorses.

Sunday’s journey to the racetrack was more meaningful. Two days earlier, Lucinda Mandella was waiting to be dismissed from nearby Scripps Hospital. She had suffered a mild heart attack on July 18, the evening of the opening day at Del Mar.

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“I’m so happy to be out in the morning,” she said on Sunday.

Women of the age of Lucinda Mandella are not supposed to have heart attacks.

Opening day at Del Mar was Lucinda’s chance to visit friends at the races and drum up support for CARMA’s annual fund-raising poker tournament, held on Saturday evening at the Hilton, across from the racetrack.

Through the day, Lucinda Mandella did not feel well. By late evening, after dinner with Gary at a restaurant near from the track, her condition had not improved.

“We’d been at the races all day long,” Gary said on Sunday. “We used the hotel room to fight through the opening day crowd and we went to the dinner at Fish Market.

“When we got back to the hotel, she felt a little worse and it got a little worse. We decided to go get it looked at.”

At the hospital, the news caught the couple by surprise. Chest pains aside, Lucinda’s mind was far from the symptoms of a heart attack.

There was a poker tournament to organize.

“She said, ‘I’ve got a show to put on. This is such a big inconvenience,’ ” Gary remembers.

She was admitted early Thursday morning and told later that day by a cardiologist that she had suffered a heart attack. Lucinda Mandella underwent a procedure on Thursday evening to have a stent installed to remove blockage in an artery.

She was released from the hospital on Friday afternoon, and spent Friday and Saturday resting. The poker tournament, which was largely ready to go anyway, went on without her, with volunteers rallying to support the event. Although final donations had not been calculated, the event is expected to raise more than $50,000.

“I had an amazing amount of support from friends and colleagues who helped,” she said.

She also missed Sunday’s paddock sale at Del Mar, where a retired racehorse named True Swither was sold to California owner Jim Ford for $12,000 to benefit CARMA and the Texas-based charity Remember Me Rescue.

Earlier this week, Lucinda went back to the family’s home in Pasadena, not far from Santa Anita. Aside from looking after their 6-year-old son, Josh, she will not be doing much in coming weeks, while continuing to recover.

Gary, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, will be commuting between home and Del Mar, where his stable is based, a few times each week to check in. He will be in Del Mar on Saturday to start Mobilized in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap. In the meantime, there are friends and family on speed dial if Lucinda needs help.

“We’re on the good side of it now,” Gary Mandella said. “We could have been in a hell of a lot worse situation.”

While watching training on Sunday, Lucinda was ready to do more, all the while being told by friends to take it easy.

“I’m tired of sitting,” she said. “I’m tired of being in the hotel room. I feel good. I’m anxious to get back to the things I do.”

She admits she needs to reduce stress, increase exercise, and “make time for myself.”

The thought of having a heart attack had barely set in.

“I haven’t processed that yet,” she said. “It would be unlike me to sit around and say, ‘I had a heart attack.’ It would be more like me to say, ‘This is what I need to do to get better.’ ”