Commentary: Two (Old) Timers

Commentary: Two (Old) Timers
Photo: Lee Thomas
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief

The Tin Man and John Henry have more in common than grade I victories at the ripe old age of 9. The Tin Man joined that exclusive seniors’ club with his Memorial Day win in the Shoemaker Breeders’ Cup Mile Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park May 28. John Henry won four grade I races as a 9-year-old in 1984, when he was honored with the second of his two Horse of the Year titles.

Both geldings have been trained by outstanding horsemen. John Henry spent most of his time in the care of Ron McAnally, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1990. The Tin Man has been conditioned throughout his career by Richard Mandella, a 2001 Hall of Fame inductee. The late V. J. “Lefty” Nickerson was John Henry’s East Coast trainer in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Mandella worked as an assistant to Nickerson in the early 1970s and considers him his mentor.

Neither McAnally nor Mandella leveraged the grade I Triple Crown races to gain entry into the Hall of Fame. They have zero victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes between them. McAnally has started 10 horses in the Derby since 1980 and Mandella six since 1984. Though each is perfectly capable of working with 2-year-olds, their specialty has been with older horses and their focus has been on the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Mandella has won six Breeders’ Cup races from 28 starts; McAnally is 4-for-27.

The Tin Man and John Henry both won the Arlington Million (gr. IT), arguably the year’s most important grass race outside of the Breeders’ Cup. John Henry’s nose triumph over The Bart in the inaugural running in 1981 put that race on the map and has been memorialized by an Edwin Bogucki bronze statue overlooking the Arlington Park paddock. The gelded son of Ole Bob Bowers won it again over the champion mare Royal Heroine in 1984. The Tin Man captured the 2006 Arlington Million wire to wire over Cacique.

John Henry closed out his amazing eight-year racing career with a record of 39 wins from 83 starts and earnings of $6,591,860. He missed out on the Breeders’ Cup, suffering a suspensory injury just prior to the inaugural running at Hollywood Park in November 1984. An attempted comeback was aborted the following summer, and McAnally and owners Dorothy and Sam Rubin retired John Henry to a life of leisure. Now 32, he resides at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington.

The Tin Man ran his record to 13 wins from 28 starts and earnings of $3,365,780 for owners Ralph and Aury Todd, who also bred the gelded son of Triple Crown winner Affirmed. The Shoemaker was his fourth grade I win and comes off a nearly eight-month layoff.

Some trainers might have pushed ahead with The Tin Man last fall after his victory Sept. 30 in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship Stakes (gr. IT) during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. Mandella considered running his turf star in the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), but backed off when he showed signs of being a tired horse. “I gave him 60 days off and he came back great, like new money,” Mandella said. “He enjoys training more now than he ever has.”

It was a longshot that The Tin Man would ever make it to the races after suffering two bowed tendons as a 2-year-old. He’s overcome other serious injuries throughout his career.

Mandella said The Tin Man exited the Shoemaker in good condition and will be pointed toward a defense of his title in the Arlington Million in August. “He’s healthier and sounder than he’s ever been in his life,” Mandella said.

“This horse is the perfect example of what a lot of people are missing by not gelding their horses,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a good, old gelding. He is so happy with himself and with what he’s doing.”

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