08/01/2001 11:00PM

Grad school reunion time


DEL MAR, Calif. - It will be a heartwarming scene, on Monday in Saratoga Springs, when Richard Mandella steps up to the podium at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion and takes his place in the Hall of Fame.

The moment will be made especially sweet by the presence of his loyal assistants, both present and past. They will gather at his side, eyes aglow with pride, as their mentor is praised to the skies.

Mandella, for his part, will gaze down upon the beaming faces of Dan Hendricks, Jedd Josephson, Mike Machowsky, Beau Greely, and his son, Gary Mandella. And there, standing upon the peak of his greatest personal achievement, Mandella will whisper a quiet prayer:

"Please, Lord, don't let any of them open their mouths, or the jig will be definitely up."

Richard Eugene Mandella has been training both humans and horses for more than 25 years. The horses we know about. You can read the list on the plaque that will be hanging in the Hall of Fame: Kotashaan was Horse of the Year. Dare and Go conquered Cigar. Siphon and Malek won Santa Anita Handicaps. Gentlemen won the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. Afternoon Deelites won the Hollywood Futurity. Puerto Madero won the Donn. Wild Rush won the Met Mile. Reluctant Guest won the Beverly D. It goes on, and on, and on.

But in order to compile such an enviable record, Mandella had to have help. And that help had to be tuned in to Mandella's uncompromising philosophy of "horse first, the rest later."

"There would be little things he make you do that just didn't make sense at all," said Machowsky, a self-described Mandella fan from his youth.

"It was only when I started training for myself that the pieces began to fit. Something as simple as bedding a stall, or picking a hoof. As far as Richard is concerned, there is only one right way to do things."

To a man, the Mandella disciples describe a trainer who is honest to a fault and obsessed by a fanatical attention to detail. They paint a picture of a natural-born horseman who spends more time in the stalls, checking the work of grooms, than he does on the phone dealing with clients. They cite a work ethic that brings new meaning to the word "dedication."

They also paint a Mandella who couldn't find his way around the block without a detailed map, who couldn't set up a gamble to save his soul, and whose sense of humor can best be described as deadpan goofy.

"I'll still call him up and ask him something," said Josephson, who trains in northern California. "He'll only laugh at me once in awhile."

"When I went to work for him I wasn't long out of college, and I liked my fun," said Greely, who is based in Southern California. "He put a stop to that - or at least to the hours I had my fun."

"I was cleaning up the office once morning and went to throw out some old training charts," Machowsky recalled. "He said, 'Hold up, they may want those in Saratoga someday.'"

Josephson (1979-1991) leads all Mandella assistants in length of service. Machowsky did his time from 1986 to 1990. Greely got a crash course at RMU from 1995-1998 before going out on his own, while Gary Mandella, recently a TVG analyst, has returned to the fold this summer to resume work at his father's side.

It is Dan Hendricks, however, who is most closely identified with his former boss, both in word and deed. Hendricks, who comes from a family of trainers, began as an exercise rider for Mandella in 1978 and left in 1987 with Mandella's blessing. As a trainer he was won major races with the likes of Blushing Heiress, Pirate's Revenge, Feverish, Thirty Slews, Smooth Player and Stylish Star.

A typical Mandella-Hendricks conversation took place last spring, on the day nominations were released for the 2001 Hall of Fame elections. Hendricks spotted Mandella early, as usual.

"Hey, I'll see you in Saratoga," he said.

"What do you mean?" Mandella hadn't heard. "You running something?"

"Read the paper," Hendricks shot back. "You're 6-5. I'll be there."

"When he found out he was in," Hendricks said later, "you would have thought Sheikh Mohammed had just given him a hundred horses, he was that happy.

"I feel proud, because he deserves it," Hendricks added. "And it ought to be worth a lot to Richard for me not to say some of the things I know."

Josephson and Hendricks were there as the Mandella stable grew from about 15 horses to a 50-horse string, with more waiting in the wings.

"He's lightened up now, but back then he always seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders," Josephson said. "Me, I always knew it was just a matter of time before he'd be in the Hall of Fame. It was when I left that he really took off."

"If anyone out here is the next Whittingham, it's him," Hendricks added. "Charlie set the standard everyone hopes to be and tries to be. Richard comes the closest. Hasn't quite lost all his hair yet, but he's getting there, too."