10/03/2007 11:00PM

Old boys find life in retirement

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - When asked, Richard Mandella says that there are no plans for The Tin Man beyond Saturday's running of the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita Park. Since he is polite, Mandella does not set loose the voice in his head that screams, "What numskull would ever make 'plans' for a 9-year-old racehorse anyway?"

Instead, Mandella and fans of The Tin Man rejoice each time the son of Affirmed strides into the paddock, takes a good look around with those wide, kind eyes, and shrugs, "Okay, here we go again."

A Thoroughbred like The Tin Man qualifies as a natural resource. From his performances flow goodwill for the sport and inspiration for those who would try to breed another one like him. Mandella's management of The Tin Man is the stuff of textbooks yet to be written, but even the trainer concedes that it takes a very special creature to tolerate the demands of the racetrack for so long.

There have been others. John Henry, who was Horse of the Year at age 9, is their patron saint, with Kelso, a Horse of the Year at age 7, close behind.

They were spiritual descendants of a horse like Exterminator, who was third in the 1918 Kentucky Derby and still winning good races in 1923. In 1924, the 9-year-old Exterminator came within 1 1/2 lengths of taking the richest race offered in North America when he was fourth in the $51,000 Coffroth Handicap at Tijuana.

Armed was 9 when he finally reached the end of the line in March 1950. He wasn't quite the horse he was at 6, when he reigned as 1947 Horse of the Year, but he was still competitive in stakes as twilight fell, especially in 1949, when he was second twice to stablemate and Horse of the Year Coaltown.

There have been recent additions to the clan. John's Call was 9 when he won the 2000 running of the Sword Dancer Handicap and the Turf Classic. With Anticipation was 7 when he was a finalist for an Eclipse Award in 2002. And where do we put Proven Cure, who was winning sprint stakes in Texas last year at the age of 12?

They all figured to live awhile longer, which is why it was good news to hear they are all doing well.

John's Call, now 16, spends eight months of the year at the Maryland farm of his trainer, Tom Voss, and four months at the track as the stable's lead pony, when the troops head for Saratoga or Colonial Downs.

"He looks super, better than most of the horses out there," Voss said. "And you feel like you could almost run him, he feels so good and sound.

"We tried fox-hunting with him, but he's just not quite a good enough jumper to stay with the group," added Voss. "Making him a lead pony was kind of an afterthought. Then when we tried him he was perfect."

With Anticipation was trained throughout his career by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard. He raced once at the age of 9, in early 2004, then was retired after earning $2.6 million to the Pennsylvania farm of his owner, George Strawbridge. There he was schooled briefly as a hunter/jumper, but it wasn't a good fit. Then one day he was discovered by a local foxhunter, Ivan Dowling, who exposed him gradually to a whole new world.

"Apparently, he became more confident and relaxed," Sheppard said. "And of course, as the huntsman's horse, he's always in front. They say he jumps anything you head him at. And he can stay out from 11 in the morning until five in the afternoon and never take a deep breath."

Nearly white now, as regal as ever, With Anticipation makes for a spectacular sight, leading a cavalry charge of foxhunters over hill and dale. Sheppard has witnessed his old battler in action, and describes him as a very happy horse.

"Simply being turned out in a pasture is not necessarily a good life," Sheppard noted. "It's good for them to have people around them, doing things, and have an interest. They're like people. How many times have you heard about the fellow who worked every day until he retired, then was dead in six months?"

After a career of 89 races and 21 victories over 11 seasons, the 13-year-old Proven Cure can be found at the Missouri farm of his owner and breeder, Dr. William Reed. His last race was a fourth-place finish in a sprint stakes on the grass at Canterbury Downs in May. He came out of the race in good shape, but when he was returned to training an ankle flared.

"We could have treated him, but we didn't want to abuse him," Reed said. "So we brought him back here to the farm, gave him stall rest, and just this week turned him out. He's pasture sound now, and he's out there with a couple of 2-year-olds and a gelding his own age."

Still, Proven Cure is accustomed to pulling his weight. To that end, Reed is entertaining the suggestion that Proven Cure join the ranks of horses at the North American Racing Academy for young riders, run by Hall of Fame Jockey Chris McCarron in Kentucky.

Imagine the stories he'll have to tell the kids.