BackTracks: Mandy’s Gold “showed up”

Good horses come in all sorts of packages. Some can have challenging personalities which might make them hard for their humans to handle but also work to their advantage on the racetrack. Others are as smooth as silk, versatile on race day with engaging temperaments in the barn. All are remembered for what they did each time they entered a starting gate. 

In the first years of the 21st century, the Virginia-bred Mandy’s Gold started her life at a historic nursery and then went on to use her adaptable running style and disposition to become one of the MidAtlantic’s best. 

Historic Audley Farm lies at the northern end of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, its 3,000 acres now a haven for both bovines and equines. Once the home of Sir Barton, America’s first Triple Crown winner, during the first part of his stud career, Audley is still a nursery for Thoroughbreds, producing horses like Bodemeister, Grade 1 winner and sire of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. Purchased by the late Hubertus Liebrecht in 1978, the farm maintains a small band of mares for breeding. 

In 1997, Audley manager Jens von Lepel noted that Manduria, a filly by Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler he saw race in Germany, was part of the 1997 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. He purchased her in foal to the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor Gilded Time for $70,000. On March 28, 1998, Manduria foaled a chestnut filly with a white wide blaze. She would be named Mandy’s Gold. 

Pinhookers Jim and Emily Day bought the filly privately from Audley and then sent her to Eddie Wood to prep her for the 2000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale in Timonium. There, trainer Michael Gorham spotted the chestnut filly and saw potential. 

“I watched her breeze before I even looked at her,” Gorham remembered. “That caught my eye and then I looked at her pedigree and at the horse and it all came together.” 

He then bought the filly for $87,000 for John and Jeanne Gorham’s Steeplechase Farm, continuing the love of racing that had started with their father. 

The brothers were raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and their father exposed them to racing early with frequent visits to Suffolk Downs. They grew up with ponies and other animals around their home and then found a home in racing as well, their father owning several racehorses and giving both an early education in the sport. Michael aspired to make it his life, eventually working as an assistant to trainer Bruce Smith. Gorham went out on his own in 1985, first putting down stakes at Suffolk before moving to the Mid-Atlantic as the New England racing scene wound down. 

Impressed by the filly’s work ahead of the Timonium sale, Gorham was ready to see what the daughter of Gilded Time could do. In August 2000, he entered her in a 5½-furlong maiden special weight race at Delaware Park. Going off as the race’s second choice, she was second after the first quarter and took a short lead three furlongs in, going on to win by a length. Winning her debut was an auspicious start for Mandy’s Gold, but the discovery of a small chip in her knee meant that Gorham had to stop on the filly to give her time to recover from surgery to remove it. He shipped Mandy’s Gold to their winter quarters in Florida and prepared her for her three-year-old season.


Onward and Upward

Nearly six months after her debut, Mandy’s Gold made her first appearance of 2001 in a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park. With new rider Edgar Prado in the saddle, she faced a field of seven others and laid just off the pace until the stretch to take command with a furlong to go. She followed that win with another allowance try at six furlongs, turning in a similar performance to win by 1½ lengths. With three wins in three starts, Gorham stepped Mandy’s Gold up to stakes level competition with a try at the Dame Mysterieuse Stakes at Gulfstream. 

Mandy's Gold
Mandy’s Gold won the Honorable Miss at Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Michael Gorham.

A win in that listed stakes prompted a move up to a graded stakes, the Grade 3 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct. Taking the lead out of the gate, Mandy’s Gold maintained her advantage throughout the one-mile stakes, pulled away to a two-length lead in the stretch, and then held off a late charge from Two Item Limit to win by a half-length. After the race, Two Item Limit’s jockey Richard Migliore claimed foul, asserting that Mandy’s Gold came in at the top of the stretch, which stopped his filly’s progress and forced him to take her to the outside. The Aqueduct stewards agreed and placed Mandy’s Gold second, handing the Gilded Time filly her first defeat. 

With three wins in four starts in 2001, the filly went to the sidelines with another issue that kept her off the track until the following January. She kicked off 2002 in the Grade 3 First Lady Handicap at Gulfstream. Over six furlongs, Prado rated her off the pace set by Elvi Gamble and then moved her up to second behind Raging Fever. Three more winless starts followed before she headed to Philadelphia Park for the My Juliet Stakes.

With jockey Michael McCarthy in the saddle, Mandy’s Gold made the six-furlong listed stakes her own as she took the lead a half-mile in and then pulled away to a 3½-length win. That touched off a four-race win streak that included victories in two Grade 3 stakes, the Chicago Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Arlington and the Honorable Miss at Saratoga, plus the Sweet and Sassy at Delaware Park. 

With four straight wins in the bank, Gorham pointed Mandy’s Gold to her first Grade 1 stake, the Ballerina at Saratoga. 

Over seven furlongs, the Gilded Time filly maintained a short lead over familiar foe Raging Fever until the last furlong, fading to finish third. Gorham calls the Ballerina the filly’s best race despite her third-place finish. 

“I really didn’t want her to go that fast that day and it just ended up that way. She got in a little speed duel and got tired late,” the trainer remembered. “Off of that, we decided to run her long where she could rate a little bit. That worked out in our next spot in the Ruffian.” 

Her next test turned out to be her stoutest as she faced multiple Grade 1 winner You, Raging Fever, and Maryland-bred Shine Again, who’d won the Ballerina, in the Grade 1 Ruffian at Belmont Park. With Jose Santos in the saddle, Mandy’s Gold put on a stellar performance. Breaking from the rail, Santos kept the filly at the back of the short field as Raging Fever and then You set torrid fractions of :22.64 for the first quarter, :45.25 for the half-mile, and 1:10.15 for six furlongs. In the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile stake, Santos took Mandy’s Gold wide as she went by the frontrunners late to take the lead with a furlong to go. She won her first Grade 1 by 2 ¼ lengths. 

With her sights set on the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Arlington Park, Mandy’s Gold next tried the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park, facing a field that included Imperial Gesture and Summer Colony. The 1 1/8-mile race was the same distance as the Distaff three weeks later, so it was natural prep for Gorham’s filly. Again, Jose Santos let the filly run toward the back of the pack and then went wide on the far turn to come into the stretch driving to challenge the front-running Imperial Gesture. However, Mandy’s Gold was not able to catch the eventual winner, finishing second by 2 ¾ lengths. 

In the Distaff, the daughter of Gilded Time ran into a stacked field, including Imperial Gesture, Summer Colony, Farda Amiga, and Azeri, whose win at Arlington plus her multiple graded stakes win in 2002 earned her Horse of the Year. Mandy’s Gold would finish fifth, a performance that Gorham says, “wasn’t the best race and it wasn’t the worst race.”

“I wanted her to be a little bit closer than she was,” the trainer said of the Distaff. “The pace wasn’t blistering fast and she kind of ran an even race and ended up fifth.” 

In a season where she broke through and got a Grade 1 win, Mandy’s Gold exited the season with a 13-5-3-3 record, all of her wins coming in stakes. With one more year on the track ahead of her, her five-year-old season was sure to bring more great performances from Gorham’s filly.

One More Year

Gorham started Mandy’s Gold’s 2003 season targeting Oaklawn Park’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, where she finished third behind Azeri – again – and Take Charge Lady.

Shipping back east to Pimlico, Mandy’s Gold tried the Pimlico Breeders’ Cup Distaff Handicap, a Grade 3 at 1 1/16 miles on the Friday before the Preakness. The slop saw the field scratched down to four and Gorham’s horse handled it all with aplomb. Jockey Jerry Bailey kept her on the rail behind the two front runners early and then tipped her out wide on the far turn to find racing room in the stretch. Summer Colony had taken over the lead as they entered the stretch and Mandy’s Gold, who finally had daylight to run toward, eclipsed the gap between her and her familiar foe in the final yards, hitting the wire a neck in front. It was her second win of 2003 and would turn out to be the last of her career. 

She concluded her career with a third-place finish in Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and a fifth in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap. She then shipped to Saratoga for the late summer meet there but ran into another issue. The Gorhams’ plan had been to retire their graded stakes winning mare at season’s end anyway, so they opted to stop on her then. She retired to Three Chimneys for her breeding career, where her first cover happened to be another Midlantic-bred star, Smarty Jones. 

Thinking back on his time with the Audley bred by Gilded Time, Gorham reflected on the versatile horse he got to spend four seasons with: “She really could do anything. She had plenty of speed. She was as fast as you wanted her to be, but she could always rate. A mile would probably be her ultimate distance, though she could do anything.” 

Memories of Mandy

The chestnut daughter of Gilded Time produced four foals, including Golden Ghost, a gelding by Ghostzapper who won a state-bred stakes at two for Michael Gorham and Steeplechase Farm. She foaled a filly by Medaglia d’Oro in June 2009, but soon laminitis set in, and Mandy’s Gold was euthanized six weeks later. 

Gorham has won nearly 1,400 races in his career, and it’s now 20 years since Mandy’s Gold left the racetrack. But time hasn’t dimmed the trainer’s memories of the best horse he’s had in his barn.

“It was nice having a horse that you could map a plan out and go to different races, and when you got her there, she showed up,” Gorham said. “She might have gotten beat, but she never disappointed us.”