From the Churchill Downs Media Center on May 2, 2019
KEVIN KERSTEIN: Good morning, everyone. These things are never fun. We were hoping we would see the gentleman in the middle, Dick Mandella, here in a couple of days at the Kentucky Derby. And Omaha Beach unfortunately scratched.
Richard, take us through the events that happened yesterday.
RICHARD MANDELLA: He coughed a few times galloping yesterday which made us think we'd better take a look, mainly because he had a little bit of a sore throat eight or ten days before that we had treated and went away. Didn't think we had anything to worry about until that. And when we scoped him yesterday, he had an entrapped epiglottis.
KEVIN KERSTEIN: Can you explain a little bit for us what is an entrapped epiglottis? So he's obviously comfortable. We saw him in his stall this morning. Can you talk a little bit about the future of what he'll have done, a little bit about that.
RICHARD MANDELLA: Foster Northrop here is the veterinarian that helps him and takes care of him, so I'm sure he could do it better than I would.
DR. FOSTER NORTHROP: An entrapped epiglottis is simply the tissue underneath the epiglottis swells. The epiglottis is shaped kind of like that, and this tissue is underneath it, and we're looking this way. It swells and comes up underneath it and then wraps around the top of it, and it prevents the epiglottis from moving, which is very important because this is what blocks the airway from the pharynx, which is where the food would be coming from. So it keeps food out of the trachea is, basically, one of the things it does.
But when a horse entraps, it really limits their breathing. It blocks probably about a third of the airway. And in a race of this magnitude, that's too much to give up. So the only option is to treat it. And medically you can treat these things, but once they entrap, it's very difficult to treat them medically and you usually have to do surgery.
The surgery is very simple. A lot of times it's done standing. They will go in and make an incision in that tissue. Basically cut it in half. It will fall back off the epiglottis and shrink up and disappear like it was before this all started. It's very unfortunate timing. But like Dick said, we saw it ‑‑ we saw some inflammation in the throat soon after the horse got there. And we treated him accordingly with some throat flush and all of that inflammation went away. So we all felt we were golden until yesterday morning.
Q. Just some general reactions to this happening. I know you dreamed about winning the Derby since you were 2.
RICHARD MANDELLA: I do. And it was devastating, to be honest. Yesterday. I have done this for 45 years. So I have seen the movie and starred in it. You know, that's part of training horses. But I had a nice message from Arthur Hancock yesterday and he said: "Richard, [Charlie] Winningham was 73 when he won his first one," So who am I to think I should be doing this now?
Q. Other than the coughing, was there anything in his gallop that caused concern? Was he noticeably slower or labored?
RICHARD MANDELLA: You couldn't have asked a horse to train any better or looked any better this whole period we've been here. You've all seen it. He galloped yesterday. If you didn't look up his nose with a scope, you wouldn't know anything is wrong.
But I'm sure by the time he'd hit the quarter pole he would know it was there, and it would be a terrible feeling. As bad as it felt yesterday, it would be a horrible feeling to have him not finish well and know that I was at fault for running him. So we had to do the right thing by the horse, and that is give it up and go to the next step.
Q. (Question regarding timeline for not training.)
RICHARD MANDELLA: I would say two weeks, possibly three, of no more than riding under the shedrow and then you can start to train. Saying that with the Triple Crown in mind, we obviously can't run in ‑‑ I'm sorry, this whiskey is pretty strong. It's getting to me. (laughter)
RICHARD MANDELLA: I think Alysheba ran in the Turfway Park race, if someone can correct me, and was about a month out. You're a reporter. You probably know exactly what it was. But it was about a month out, and they found it. They split it, and they made the race.
Had this happened three weeks ago ‑‑ Foster can correct me ‑‑ this probably wouldn't be a discussion. We'd probably be running. But three days isn't enough to do anything to help it.
Q. When did you call Rick Porter and how was that discussion?
RICHARD MANDELLA: We had an expert come up and look at it yesterday afternoon, Dr. Embertson from Rood & Riddle, and he looked at it and said this man was correct in his assumption and we can't fix it and game over. And there was no ‑‑ there was nothing but agreement with all of us. And I went back to my hotel room and sat down, had to gather my thoughts a little bit. And then I had to call Rick Porter and also Wayne Hughes of Spencer Farm who has purchased his breeding right.
Very fortunate to say that I trained for some of the greatest people in the world, and their concern was maybe more for me after I got done, it seemed that, than me for them which doesn't seem right, but that's how lucky I am.
Q. (Question regarding future races.)
RICHARD MANDELLA: The two weeks off just throws out the Triple Crown. Can't run in two weeks because he's not going to train at all. Can't run in the Belmont because it makes two weeks ‑‑ especially that we didn't run this weekend, so having not run and try to train up to it with two weeks off wouldn't be fair to the horse. I wouldn't try to put him through that.
Q. Is there a financial component to this that affects his value with Spendthrift that he doesn't run in these races? Do you get less money or Rick [Porter] gets less money?
RICHARD MANDELLA: I never saw the details of the agreement. I do believe there was a pretty big kicker if he won the Derby. So I might have saved Mr. [Wayne] Hughes money.
Q. Even in your long career, even knowing this game as you do and what can happen and how these things can happen, is this your biggest disappointment?
RICHARD MANDELLA: I'd say yes. And I guess it's because the Derby is what it is. And this horse, if you all had been around the barn, you can see how special he is. It just seemed like everything was so in line. In fact, I actually had a thought, is this too perfect? Because nothing's that perfect. And we found out what wasn't.
But it was very devastating. Now Beholder came to Keeneland and got sick and couldn't run in the Breeders' Cup. But she had done so much before and after I couldn't ‑‑ I could never hold anything against what happened to her.
So this is ‑‑ this is unique. It's the Kentucky Derby. Came flying in here like we had it written on us, and it didn't work. So Mel Stute said it best once when he was interviewed about the Derby or whatever it was, and he said, "I have got a lot of experience with disappointment. This game will do it to you."
Q. You kind of addressed this when you said we knew immediately we would do what's right by the horse. But this is sort of an important time in the evolution and the history of this sport to maybe make an address to the general public who doesn't follow this and kind of just add a little bit more to that comment about here on the biggest stage where, you know, maybe the thought is, hey, these people are just in it for the glory and the money and all that, maybe you could say something along the lines, again, kind of elaborating that "we do what's right by the horse."
RICHARD MANDELLA: Well, as we've said all along, it's said every year, when you learn about horse racing, the first thing you learn is the Kentucky Derby. You grow up in it. You work in it. Whether you are a jockey or trainer or groom, a hot walker, an owner, it doesn't matter. The Kentucky Derby is what everybody knows. So everybody has that dream to win it.
But horsemen care for their animals. We don't always get the warning and things happen. But horsemen always look for the warning signs and don't want to do the wrong thing. As I said before, as broken‑hearted as I was yesterday, I would be a lot worse than that had I run him and he ran up the racetrack and I'd be kicking myself forever, "Why did I do this?" So we all live with that as horse trainers.
Again, our players can't talk to us. We have to use instincts, little signs that we see. Hopefully a veterinarian that knows something. And occasionally things get past us. But we all do the best we can, but it means the world to us to what our horse's condition is. I think that answered the question. Probably more than you wanted.
Q. (Question regarding watching the race.)
RICHARD MANDELLA: No. If I was going to be ‑‑ but I'm probably going to fly home Saturday. So maybe I'll get to see it. I didn't say no as sour grapes.
I wish everybody in the race the best of luck. It's a tough pill to swallow yesterday. I said that to Foster [Northrop] in front of the horse, and the horse looked at me and said, "You think you had a tough pill to swallow?" (laughter)
Q. Has the surgery been scheduled?
RICHARD MANDELLA: It's going to be done this afternoon.
Q. The other day when you were asked about the stress of being the favorite, you joked about the big bottle of whiskey. In reality, how do you process this? Are you a man of faith or fate? How do you go on from this?
RICHARD MANDELLA: How do I handle it? The lady sitting right in the middle of the room, my wife Randi, the most wonderful person in the world. Been with me for 50 years, married 46 or '7, and one more thing that I'm very fortunate and lucky to have. Makes it all worthwhile. Last night she tied one of my legs down to the bed so I couldn't jump out the hotel window. (laughter)
She had my arm done, too, and I almost broke loose.
Q. Richard, will you talk about the horse's potential, presuming all goes well and you bring him back the second half of the year, would you walk down the road to the Travers and eventually Breeders' Cup? What is this horse's ultimate?
RICHARD MANDELLA: Let me say is he a special horse. I mean, you watch him out there on the racetrack, he was galloping one day. I said to somebody, I forget, I think it was Mike Smith, I said that looks like Muhammad Ali when he's going into the ring. He would just bounce and hardly touch the ground and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. It just said it to me. He is really special.
And then the kind personality. I never had a good horse like him that had such a kind personality and took it in stride the way he does. So it's just an unbelievable thing to have one like him, but I have not had time to sit down and look at the schedules ahead. And obviously what happens today at the hospital and the next two weeks will be fit into what I make plans, and Saratoga could be a possibility. There's a couple of races there. There's the Haskell in New Jersey, the Pacific Classic in Delmar. Breeders' Cup at the end of the year is the obvious big goal. We'll find something else to do.
Q. Where will the surgery be performed? At the clinic?
DR. FOSTER NORTHROP: Rood & Riddle.
RICHARD MANDELLA: Rood & Riddle, yeah. Dr. Rolf Embertson.
Q. Did anyone reach out to you yesterday after the news that was a surprise to you?
RICHARD MANDELLA: No, no, a lot of people did. And I've got to say, very appreciative of seemed like a lot of people rooting for me here all week. My wife has got a little bucket. She'll walk around. If you throw a donation in there to help us get home ‑‑ (laughter). It's very heart warming but good feelings that people had for us here. And thank you for them. Don't forget the bucket. (laughter)
KEVIN KERSTEIN: Thank you, Richard. Thank you, Dr. Northrop. We'll Derby on. Things are crazy in horse racing. This is another hurdle and step in the road. Best of luck to you.
RICHARD MANDELLA: Thank you. More whiskey in the back. (laughter)