Updated on 09/18/2011 1:41AM

Mandella eager to test his theory


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Be careful what you wish for, goes the warning. You just might get it.

It has been more than three years since Richard Mandella began preaching the gospel of synthetic surfaces to anyone in California who would listen. His personal research into synthetics took him to training yards in Europe and eventually to the Keeneland training track, where an experimental Polytrack surface was installed in the autumn of 2004. For Mandella, it was an epiphany, and in his view the only way modern horse racing could survive.

Fast forward to December 2006, deep into the first synthetic track season at Hollywood Park, where trainers have been battling for stall space like the old, old days. Mandella, who consolidated his entire operation at Santa Anita Park four years ago, was anxious to train across town on the newly installed Cushion Track product. But even a Hall of Famer had to wait in line.

"I originally asked them to give me a barn," Mandella said this week, more amused than anything. "I'm actually just now getting enough stalls."

So the Mandella stable is for now split between Santa Anita and Hollywood, where he shares a barn with his son, Gary Mandella, and has another eight horses housed a few rows up the road.

The inconvenience, though, is minor, especially since Mandella was in no small part instrumental in the movement that has transformed Hollywood into the most popular training surface in Southern California. He is also mindful of the wisdom that a prophet is honored just about everywhere but his own home town, which means he will take what stalls are available, and be glad that everyone's horses can benefit from the change in training surface.

"What I predict is that you're going to get more horses to the races," Mandella said. "The ones that are meant to be, they make it anyway. But then you get those horses who are marginal. The way it's been, you get them two works from a race and that's it. Career's over.

"With the traditional dirt tracks, the injuries are mostly cumulative," Mandella went on. "Any time you train you injure tissue, breaking it down and then building it up, hopefully stronger than it was at the start. At least that's the theory. But taking a beating every day, there's no chance to heal what they hurt.

"So what we have on the dirt tracks is deficit training - tearing down without a chance to build back up," Mandella added. "Hopefully, the new tracks are kind enough to give horses a chance to recover."

Mandella will continue to make Hollywood his main base of training operations even after the racing shifts across town to the conventional dirt surface at Santa Anita, on Dec. 26.

"If you had a choice of running on [a synthetic track] or training on it, and only do one, I would say training on it is more important," he said.

Mandella is also anxious to find out if the switch to synthetic surfaces could eventually provide more competitive versatility - specifically, giving grass horses a chance to reproduce their best form on the main track. So far, with only a handful of major tracks going synthetic, there has been a certain amount of anecdotal evidence that there may be a brave new world opening up for turf runners.

"I think definitely, you'll have more horses that need grass having a shot now of switching over, than they would on traditional dirt," Mandella noted.

"It's my feeling that the better turf horses have a little bit bigger, looser stride," he went on. "When they run on the turf, their feet stick where they put them and they can get their rhythm together. When they get on the dirt, especially the sandy tracks, they tend to slide, and that rhythm doesn't stay together as well."

At some point, Mandella will test the theory with Boboman, a son of Kingmambo out of a Seattle Slew mare who comes from the same Wertheimer stable source that gave the trainer his 1993 Horse of the Year Kotashaan and 2003 champion 2-year-old filly Halfbridled. Like Kotashaan, Boboman raced initially in Europe, primarily on soft French ground, but now has made the transition to firm American turf courses, winning his last two starts at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree meet and at Hollywood.

Boboman was scheduled to run in Saturday's Hollywood Turf Cup, but Mandella also entered him in Sunday's Native Diver Handicap at nine furlongs on the synthetic main track surface, just to see how it felt. If, someday, Boboman makes a successful transition, he will be following in an honorable California tradition that includes such stars as Cougar II, Vigors, Exceller, and John Henry, who along with Dr. Fager and Secretariat could hit with power from both sides of the plate. Furthermore, Mandella gets the feeling that Boboman will not need a synthetic surface to thrive on dirt.

"He's trained fantastically on the dirt at both Santa Anita and Del Mar," Mandella said. "Even if I don't try him on the dirt this weekend, I'll be trying it sometime, so we'll find out."