By Mary Dixon Reynolds
In Southern California, the San Gabriel Mountains serve as the backdrop to Santa Anita Park, the home of many top trainers, including Michael Machowsky Stables. Machowsky has been based on this circuit for 34 years, from the time he worked as assistant trainer and stable foreman for Richard Mandella for almost six years before he went out on his own.
Recently, Hall of Famer Mandella recalled Machowsky’s early days: “Mike was a young man when he worked for me. I was a younger man, too! He was a very devoted, hard-working young person who had nothing on his mind but racing horses. I have watched him grow through the years, he’s still that way and always puts his horses first. I’m in the Hall of Fame because of people like Mike
Machowsky and so many others. They have propelled me to where I am now,” Mandella said.
“Machowsky has a very good feel for horses, which is innate. He proves it year after year. It’s not something you can acquire. You have it or you don’t, and Machowsky has it!”
Although Mandella was speaking in serious tones, a sense of pride was evident in his words. Machowsky credits his mentor with teaching him patience, and Mandella deflected the compliment from himself by saying, “We all learn patience from the horses.”
Patience is not all that Machowsky took away from his time with Mandella. “I learned everything from him,” he said. “Detail, leaving no stone unturned on the horses -- those traits stayed with me. Mandella taught me it’s the little things that matter.”
The Sunday after Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, Machowsky trainee Make It a Triple won a claiming race. Machowsky’s smile was as wide as any of the people representing owner Richard Barton in the winner’s circle. Afterwards, Machowsky celebrated his victory at the restaurant 14 Hands. The
5’ 11” trainer was sitting at a table, wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, jeans, and the same smile from the winner’s circle. He stated, ”I always expect to win. We put everything into these horses: conditioning, proper diets, daily care. It’s my position to decide what type of race they should enter for a win. If things do not go right, I blame myself, as I should because I am with these Thoroughbreds every day and know them inside out.”
Machowsky took out his trainer’s license in 1989 and saddled his first winner, Bidadip, on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita in 1990. Almost two years later, on December 22, 1991, Native Boundary became his first stakes winner, while Dancing Rhythm, winner of the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes in 1998, was his first graded stakes winner. In 2009, he won the $900,000 Sunland Derby with Kelly Leak, over future Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in fourth.
Born September 19, 1965, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Machowsky was two when his family moved to Southern California. He became interested in horses through his physician father’s ownership of Quarter Horses and, later, Thoroughbred racehorses. When the popular, nearly white colt Vigors -- winner of the 1978 Santa Anita Handicap -- caught Machowsky’s attention, he never looked back.
He knew he had found his calling and would be relentless in its pursuit. He began working as a hotwalker and mucked stalls for trainer Clay Brinson after school and on weekends. At 15, he traveled to Del Mar with Brinson and stayed in a motorhome across the street from the track. He worked as a groom for trainer Henry Moreno for two years before moving to Mandella’s barn.
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