02/21/2006 1:00AM

No quit in 'Tin Man'

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The Tin Man sustained two bowed tendons before he ever raced, yet is still a stakes-caliber horse at age 8.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Who said The Tin Man lacked heart? Maybe in "The Wizard of Oz," but when you consider all that the stakes-winning turf horse The Tin Man has gone through, he might be the wizard of awes.

bowed not one, but both front tendons in 2000 at age 2, before he ever raced. He needed a year to recover. He had a nine-month layoff following the 2003 Breeders' Cup, and needed another 14 months to recuperate from a serious ankle injury before launching his most recent comeback in December.

Despite that, The Tin Man has fashioned a remarkable career. His nine victories, at distances from one mile to 1 1/2 miles, include the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting in 2002; he also has finished fourth in two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Turf. The Tin Man has earned $1,226,860.

And, since returning from his latest and lengthiest layoff, he has won two straight races at the current Santa Anita meeting, including last month's San Marcos Handicap. He will go for the hat trick on Sunday in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile grass race that The Tin Man won three years ago, at the tender age of 5.

Along the way, the now 8-year-old gelding has become one of the most popular horses in trainer Richard Mandella's barn. He has a sweet personality - "I'd like to take him home with me at night, but my wife won't let me," Mandella said - and some endearing quirks.

"He tends to see things that aren't there," Mandella said at his Santa Anita barn. "He's always looking for stuff. I think he needs glasses. I really don't think he sees well. He always looks at things as if in fear a ghost is going to come out and bite him. I've always thought since I was a kid that horses that don't see well act a little spooky. They think they see a giant instead of a midget."

The Tin Man is a bay-colored son of Affirmed, the Triple Crown winner who had surprisingly good success siring turf runners, such as the champion grass mare Flawlessly. The Tin Man has raced exclusively on turf, owing to his pedigree and the theory that racing on grass would be kinder on his legs.

"When he bowed both tendons, he bowed one a little, the other pretty significantly," Mandella said. "We gelded him at the time, hoping it would help him not get so big. He already had two bowed tendons, so we knew we'd be paddling uphill pretty bad to begin with. We thought it would be easier to help him get to the races with those two pretty big knocks already against him."

Dr. Rick Arthur performed a tendon-splitting procedure, which Mandella has used with great success with the likes of Afternoon Deelites and Table Frolic, on The Tin Man. Mandella uses ultrasound treatment every other day on the tendons before training, and ices the legs afterward.

"Tendons usually don't set, but these happened to heal," Mandella said. "At first it looked like he wouldn't make it back, but they settled down, and we haven't looked back."

There have been occasional flare-ups. The right front tendon was the more significantly injured originally, and that ankle was the one that become troublesome in the fall of 2004.

"He strained the ankle pretty seriously," Mandella said." I didn't know if we could get him back. It was the kind of injury that, if he was a colt, he'd have been retired and gone to stud. But after a long enough time, he looked good coming back, and the ankle didn't give us much trouble. He first went to recuperate at Farrell Jones's farm, then he was turned out in a big paddock at River Edge Farm.

"We brought him back pretty slowly. At first I sent him to Neil French at San Luis Rey Downs, where it was quiet and he could jog a long time. He did it three times as long as we normally would, just to make sure. And he galloped a long time before he started to work out. Just a little extra precaution."

The Tin Man was bred and is owned by Ralph and Aury Todd of Santa Ynez, Calif., who have been married for 49 years and been clients of Mandella's for more than 25 years. Ralph Todd, 72, owns a wholesale plumbing supply company, among other business ventures. He has fewer than 10 horses, but frequently has come up with a good runner, such as Malibu Stakes winner Oraibi, and the stakes-winning mare Mama Simba. Both Mama Simba and The Tin Man are out of the Tom Rolfe mare Lizzie Rolfe, who was a half-sister to Oraibi.

Todd relied on two Santa Ynez Valley friends - Russell Drake, the farm manager at River Edge, and Doug Herthel, who has a nearby equine clinic - to help during The Tin Man's recuperation.

"Richard told me when he hurt his ankle, 'Ralph, don't expect him to come back, but we caught it fairly early, which will increase his chances,' " Todd said from his home. "He's such a cool horse. He's provided us with so much entertainment. I'll tell you one thing - there's no way this horse will ever run in a claiming race. He'll have a nice home when he's done."