02/18/2015 3:10PM

Hovdey: Success may win over Pain and Misery


On the face of it, Pain and Misery is just about the worst name you could give a racehorse. This is not to trample on an owner’s first amendment rights to freedom of speech and its more creative expressions (as upheld in The Jockey Club vs. Mike Pegram in the naming of Isitingood). But this is 2015, for Pete’s sake, and the tolerance for any whiff of a cold-hearted attitude toward the welfare of the animal has pretty much evaporated.

Furthermore, it’s not as if Pain and Misery is going away anytime soon. In his first race as a 3-year-old last weekend, which was also his first race for trainer Richard Mandella, the racy brown gelding just missed winning the $75,000 Baffle Stakes at about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course at Santa Anita. He was caught in the last jumps by Bench Warrant, who was coming off a pretty good effort to Lord Nelson and Texas Red in the San Vicente, in a race that put some life in a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Pain and Misery was ridden by young Flavien Prat, who did not – as Trevor Denman suggested at one point during his call of the race – drop his whip in the heat of the battle. To Mandella it didn’t matter much, since his expectations were modest, and he was pleased with both horse and rider.

“He came here from New Mexico during the fall meet at Del Mar,” Mandella said. “But he needed to back off a little before he could go forward. After that he came along really good. I needed to get a race into him, and the 6 1/2 on the turf was the only thing around. He did it really well, so now we can think about something like the San Felipe with him.”

The San Felipe Stakes, on March 7, is the next major West Coast stop on the Kentucky Derby Express. Pain and Misery’s pedigree – by Bob and John out of a Running Stag mare – suggests that the 1 1/16 miles of the San Felipe should be no sweat, and if he can handle the dirt at Zia Park he will love the stuff at Santa Anita.

“This is a sweetheart of a horse,” Mandella said. “Good-natured. Does everything right. Just a pleasure to be around.”

Which begs the question … why does such a nice horse have to be burdened with such a terrible name? In a column from his collection “This Was Racing,” Joe Palmer held forth on the naming of horses for reasons both naughty and nice. He brought up a fellow who called one of his horses Ugly Mary and another Losing Clon.

“He approached this on a practical level,” Palmer wrote. “He said with those names female hunch players would not bet on them, and he would get better odds when they won.”

Of course, this is both sexist and wildly incorrect, unless “female hunch players” make up considerably more of the pari-mutuel pools that we’ve been led to believe. Pain and Misery went off at 10-1 in the Baffle, but the price could be blamed more on the uncertain 2-year-old form he brought to town from New Mexico, by way of Zia Park, where he won a maiden race and then the Governor’s Cup last fall for trainer Henry Dominguez.

At this point, there will be some in the congregation experiencing a queasy feeling of déjà vu at the thought of Mandella getting hold of a promising young gelding from New Mexico with aspirations of greater things down the line. It was the autumn of 2008 when Dr. Leonard Blach and Mark Allen sent Mine That Bird to Mandella’s care for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The horse ran a stinker and headed back to New Mexico, where Chip Woolley stepped up to train him all the way to the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner’s circle.

“I guess I didn’t discourage them too much, because they came back,” Mandella said.

At least Blach did, who owns Pain and Misery in partnership with New Mexico racing commissioner Ray Willis. They bought him for $210,000 at the April 2014 sale of 2-year-olds in Ocala. He was unnamed at the time.

“Ray and I have had a few horses together, but I’ve always named them,” Blach said. “I told him it was his turn with this one, but he kept procrastinating. By the time the name was due he’d come down with the worst case of shingles you ever saw, the poor guy. So he just wrote ‘Pain and Misery’ on the papers and sent them in.”

And now he’s stuck. The Dept. of Racetrack Superstitions says that it’s bad luck to change a horse’s name, especially after he has run.

“I thought Bad n’ Big was a terrible name when I got him,” Mandella said, citing the first serious horse of his Hall of Fame career. Among his stakes wins was the Longacres Mile, the Cinema Handicap, and the Bing Crosby.

“When he came to me his name was Forward Forward,” Mandella said. “Even his owner, Dr. Buck Wynne, didn’t like it and said he’d change it. I didn’t think Bad n’ Big was an improvement, though it sure seemed right as we went along.”

Hopefully, then, the Mandella crew has a kinder, gentler nickname around the barn for their new shooter.

“Sure,” the trainer said. “We call him Shingles.”