11/20/2006 1:00AM

Mandella follows his dad's example

Lauren J. Pomeroy/HorsePhotos
Trainer Gary Mandella (right) came close to winning his first Breeders' Cup race when Taste of Paradise finished second in the 2005 Sprint.

It is rare for the training Mandella boys - father Richard, and son Gary - to race against one another in high-stakes affairs, but that figures to become more common. Gary Mandella, 34, has seen the quality of his stable grow in the past five years, and while not on the par of that of his Hall of Fame father, it is trending the right way.

Still . . .

"He always gets the check for dinner. Always," Gary Mandella said. "When I've won six Breeders' Cup races and a Dubai World Cup, then maybe I'll go dutch with him."

The loyalties of Randi - Richard's wife and Gary's mother - and Andrea, Gary's younger sister, have never been in doubt. At last year's Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, Gary just missed winning the Sprint with Taste of Paradise. Richard Mandella looked over and saw tears streaming down the faces of Randi and Andrea.

"My dad told me, 'They never cry when I lose a photo,' " Mandella said.

Taste of Paradise gave Mandella his first Grade 1 win as a trainer when he captured last year's Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park. Silent Name, a Japanese-bred, French-raced import, could bring him his second. He has come tantalizingly close. Silent Name was third to Aragorn in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park and Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, then led to midstretch in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs before tiring to finish sixth. Earlier this year, Silent Name captured the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita.

Like his father, the son of a blacksmith, Mandella was born into the sport. But his path to training, though it had admitted advantages, was not smooth.

"I always felt I wanted to do this, but I had a lot of pressure from my dad not to," Mandella said. "He said it was too much work, it's too hard to make it. And I believed him. I went to school hoping I'd find that one class that would spark some interest, and I'd make a bunch of money, and then I'd own horses instead. But I never found it.

"My dad told me all along that if I chose to make this my career, he'd help as much as he could help. But he tried desperately to talk me out of it."

After taking courses for nearly three years at Long Beach State and Pasadena City College, Mandella worked as an assistant to his father. But in 1999, he joined the fledgling TVG Network.

"The workers' comp situation at the time in California was an atrocity," Mandella said. "There weren't any assistant trainers going on their own. I wasn't going to be going on my own any time soon. I thought it was my last chance to have a real job, with two days off per week, and paid vacation. You're never too old to train. In fact, I think age works against you when you're young. I thought I had nothing to lose."

Mandella was an inspired choice. At 6-foot-5, he is telegenic, well-spoken, witty, and passionate about racing. So was another original TVG hire, Caton Bredar. Both have since left.

"I worked there two years," Mandella said. "I would have left earlier, but I had a contract, and I wanted to fulfill it. I was hoping to be part of something positive that would help the game. It was a slow process. It took longer than I expected, and that dampened my enthusiasm. I thought it would have an immediate impact."

Mandella returned to the track and again worked as an assistant to his father for the last six months of 2001 before going out on his own in January 2002.

He started with just a handful of horses, but the success of runners such as Taste of Paradise and Silent Name has brought more horses his way. Mandella has 36 in training at Hollywood Park.

His family is growing, too. Mandella and his wife of nearly seven years, Lucinda - who works for the Thoroughbred Owners of California - added a son, Joshua, to their personal stable 10 months ago.

Joshua let it slip that he roots for his dad over his grandpa, too.