- FOND MEMORIES OF MIKE MITCHELL, DEAD AT 66
- D’AMATO REMEMEMBERS MENTOR MITCHELL
- LONGEST TRY FOR FANTICOLA IN SANTA BARBARA
- STEVENS: DEEPEST KENTUCKY DERBY IN MEMORY
- DOUG O’NEILL ENTERS PAIR IN LA PUENTE STAKES
- WAYNE HUGHES ON HAND TO SEE COLT RUN TODAY
DOMINANT SO-CAL TRAINING GREAT MIKE MITCHELL DEAD AT 66
Trainer Mike Mitchell, an iconic and dominant figure on the Southern California racing landscape for nearly 40 years passed away Tuesday at his home in Monrovia following a lengthy battle with brain cancer at age 66.
Born April 25, 1948 in Bakersfield and the son of a trainer, Earl Mitchell, Mike Mitchell worked for legendary trainers Farrell Jones and Willard Proctor prior to taking out his first trainer’s license in 1974. Married in 1982 to the former Denise Weaver, Mitchell is survived by his wife and their two daughters, McCall (Rounsefell) and Shea (Leparoux).
Known primarily as a wizard at the claim box, Mitchell had a finely tuned ability to analyze the way races would be run and the ability to communicate pertinent pre-race information to those in his employ.
“The thing about Mike that I loved was he had so much faith in himself, so much confidence,” said retired Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. “He was one of my biggest supporters and we had a lot of success together. He knew his horses and every time he told me a horse was doing well, they ran that way. When I rode for Mike, he never gave me instructions and when I rode for him, I had a lot of confidence. He was a great trainer with claiming horses and with stakes horses. He was one of the best I ever rode for.”
Santa Anita’s leading Winter Meet trainer in 1992-93, and again in 2007-08, he handed his stable over to his longtime assistant, Phil D’Amato on April 21, 2014 and retired due to his illness as Santa Anita’s fifth all-time leading trainer with 659 wins, behind only Bobby Frankel, Charlie Whittingham, Bob Baffert and Ron McAnally.
Mitchell’s first Santa Anita stakes winner was Johnny’s Image, who won the 1978 Santa Catalina Stakes (now run as the Robert B. Lewis), and he saddled a total of 20 overall stakes winners at The Great Race Place, his final added money win here coming with Egg Drop in the Grade II Goldikova Stakes in 2013.
“Mike was a very aggressive guy when it came to where he was placing his horses,” said veteran jockey agent, Scotty McClellan, who represented several top riders during Mitchell’s career, including Darrel McHargue, Chris McCarron, Alex Solis, Corey Nakatani and Joe Talamo. “He always ran them in live spots. There were a lot of times a horse would run good and I’d be looking for a race for $40,000 (claiming), and he’s looking for a race for 25 or 32 (thousand). He did phenomenal with his claims over the years and if he said he had a runner, believe me, it was a runner.”
McClellan also touched upon the kind of person Mitchell was.
“As competitive as he was, Mike loved to laugh,” he said. “He just loved to laugh and hear new jokes–and play practical jokes. He was a great trainer and a great person as well–one of the best I’ve ever been around.”
Mitchell, who won his first race at Bay Meadows in 1974, won 21 overall training titles in Southern California. In addition to his two Santa Anita Winter Meet titles, he won four training titles at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Meeting; in 1983, 1995, 1996 and 2004. He also took seven overall Hollywood Park titles that included the 1982, 1985, 1993 and 1997 Spring/Summer Meets, and Hollywood Park Fall Meets in 1983, 1996 and 2011.
Del Mar’s all-time leading trainer with 476 wins, Mitchell won seven Del Mar titles; 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1995, 1996 and 2011. He was also leading trainer at Fairplex Park in 2008.
“I haven’t seen too many guys that were ever better with a condition book than Mike,” said TVG’s Kurt Hoover. “He knew where to place his horses and when to run ’em. In addition to that, I’ve known several people that had great success with Mike as their trainer, but they all say that along with racing success, the fun they had with both Mike and Denise was just as important.
“On top of all of his professional achievements is the fact that he had a great family. You could see that they all genuinely enjoyed being together. He was an all-around good man.”
Although known (and feared) as one of the top claiming trainers of all-time, Mitchell also developed a number of stakes winners, including the top sprinter Kela, who provided him with his first Grade I win, in the 2004 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.
His greatest stakes success came late in his career with Irish-bred Obviously, who won five graded stakes, including the Grade I Shoemaker Mile, between August, 2012 and August, 2013. Obviously also finished third for Mitchell, behind eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan, in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita.
In addition to his wife and two daughters, Mitchell is survived by a twin sister, Cheryl, and brothers Earl, Jr., Guy and Casey. Funeral services are pending.
D’AMATO CREDITS SUCCESS TO FATHER FIGURE MITCHELL
Trainer Phil D’Amato understandably had nothing but fond memories of Mike Mitchell,
who died Tuesday.
“He was more than just my boss for a decade,” D’Amato said on a picturesque Thursday at Clockers’ Corner.
“He was my mentor and he was a father figure to me. The reason for my success so far has everything to do with Mike Mitchell. It’s everything I’ve learned from him.”
MITCHELL MEMORIAL MONDAY AT SANTA ANITA
A public memorial for longtime Southern California trainer Mike Mitchell will take place Monday, April 20 at Santa Anita. The service, which is to start at 1:30 p.m. and run until 3 p.m., will be held in the track’s Chandelier Room.
Mitchell, who passed away following a lengthy battle with brain cancer at age 66 on Tuesday, trained in California for nearly 40 years and is survived by his wife, Denise and their two daughters, McCall (Rounsefell) and Shea (Leparoux). Additional surviving family includes his four siblings; a twin sister, Cheryl, and three brothers, Earl, Jr., Guy and Casey.
The Mitchell family has arranged for their pastor and the choir from their church, Fellowship Monrovia, to address those attending. There will also be a few other short speeches from designated speakers.
At the request of the family, donations may be made in Mike Mitchell’s name to the Southern California Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA). The family has also requested that light refreshments be served at the memorial. Guests should enter by car through Gate 5 and follow signage to the Mitchell Memorial in the Chandelier Room.
OPPORTUNE TIME FOR FANTICOLA TO TRY 10 FURLONGS
Fanticola runs in her longest race yet when she goes in Saturday’s Grade III, $150,000
Santa Barbara Handicap for older fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf, but trainer Phil D’Amato feels she’s up to the task.
“She’s trained in the morning like she can run longer,” D’Amato said of the 5-year-old mare, whose longest race in 14 career starts has been at a mile and a sixteenth. She won that race on the front end at Hollywood Park in December of 2013.
“She’s doing really good right now, so I just thought this was the opportune time to see if she can go a mile and a quarter,” D’Amato said. “She’s really shown a lot of strong gallop-outs in her last couple drills, which leads me to believe she can run longer, and we’re going to give it a shot.”
The field for the Santa Barbara: Three Hearts, Tyler Baze, 7-2; Tangelo, Mario Gutierrez, 20-1; Fanticola, Joe Talamo, 4-1; Queen of the Sand, Drayden Van Dyke, 9-2; Walk Close, Victor Espinoza, 6-1; Diversy Harbor, Gary Stevens, 3-1; Industrial Policy, Brice Blanc, 8-1; Habibi, Flavien Prat, 6-1; and Arethusa, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1.
STEVENS SEEKS FOURTH DERBY VICTORY
Gary Stevens knows his way around Churchill Downs as well as anybody, having won
the Kentucky Derby three times, with the filly Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Silver Charm in 1997.
The 52-year-old Hall of Fame rider hopes to make it four on May 2 when he rides Sunland Derby winner Firing Line in the mile and a quarter classic for Simon Callaghan, who trains the son of Line of David for owner Arnold Zetcher.
Stevens knows it won’t be easy, this year especially.
“This is the best group of 3-year-olds as a whole that I can remember, dating back to when I was a little kid,” Stevens said. “This will be my 21st or 22nd Derby, but as far as depth goes, it’s there, with American Pharoah, Carpe Diem, Dortmund, Firing Line, Frosted–even Far Right, El Kabeir and the colt that won the Lexington Saturday, Divining Rod.
“It’s going to be an interesting Derby, and I’m excited about it, not just for my horse, but to see so many other good ones. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
O’NEILL SENDS OUT TWO IN LA PUENTE STAKES
Doug O’Neill has no delusions of winning the Kentucky Derby with Ernest Shackleton and Perfect Temptation this year, but he does expect them to run well in Saturday’s $75,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
“Ernest is already proven on turf, so we’re excited about him,” said O’Neill, who saddled 2012 Santa Anita Derby winner I’ll Have Another to win the Run for the Roses that year. “Ernest was fourth in his last start (the Pasadena Stakes at a mile on grass March 21) but he bobbled at the start.
“That was his first race with (Felipe) Valdez, and he’s come back and worked the horse, so we’re looking for a big effort from him.
“Perfect Temptation is a big, good-looking gelding we always thought had potential, so hopefully he can repeat his win last out, even though this is a step up.”
Perfect Temptation, owned in part by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, broke his maiden on the lead in a $75,000 maiden claiming race at one mile on March 8.
The La Puente field: Anytime Anyplace, Kent Desormeaux, 4-1; Papacoolpapacool, Gary Stevens, 9-5; Perfect Temptation, Flavien Prat, 8-1; Hero Ten All, Tyler Baze, 7-2; Rockin Robin, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Pretentious, Santiago Gonzalez, 15-1; Ernest Shackleton, Felipe Valdez, 12-1; and Ride Hard Kowboy, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1.
BEHOLDER’S OWNER LOOKS FORWARD TO GRADE I VANITY
B. Wayne Hughes, a successful fixture in Southern California before moving to Kentucky where his Spendthrift Farm is one of the world’s major breeding facilities, was a visitor at Clockers’ Corner Thursday morning.
Hughes was expected to be on hand to see a colt he owns a share of, Cyrus Alexander, run in today’s third race. Hughes also owns two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, ticketed for the Grade I Vanity Stakes on May 9 and a possible meeting with streaking California-bred stakes winner Warren’s Veneda.
“I actually came out to see Melvin (Stute) and Henry (Moreno) and friends here,” Hughes said. “Beholder’s race in the Santa Lucia (April 10) was as good as we could have hoped for.
“I know there’s another really good mare out here in Warren’s Veneda, so May 9 is going to be a good day for racing. It could be a bad day for us, but overall I think we’ve got a nice horse and I think we’ll be very competitive.”
Cyrus Alexander, a Medaglia d’Oro colt also owned by Stonestreet and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, has been favored in each of his six starts, three times at odds-on. He is the 9-5 morning line favorite in today’s one mile test.
FINISH LINES: Agent Scotty McClellan has Joe Talamo booked to ride Louisiana Derby third-place finisher War Story for trainer Tom Amoss in the May 2 Kentucky Derby . . . Bob Baffert will ship Santa Anita Derby runner-up One Lucky Dane to Louisville for the Run for Roses on April 26, along with unbeaten Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund . . . Cozmic One, the first foal from 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, makes his long-awaited debut in Friday’s second race at one mile for John Shirreffs, who trains the 3-year-old colt by Bernardini for owner/breeders Jerry and Ann Moss. Jon White, who makes the morning line at Santa Anita, notes that the race will be a rematch of sorts. Also entered is Volume, whose sire is Blame. Volume will be racing on dirt for the first time after finishing 10th on the grass in his career debut on March 28. It was Blame who edged Zenyatta by a head in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, the only loss in Zenyatta’s 20-race career . . . With his 3 ¾-length victory aboard My Monet for trainer Ricky Agarie in Sunday’s sixth race, apprentice Gonzalo Nicolas posted his 40th career victory, thus losing two pounds from his weight allowance. The 24-year-old native of Guatemala represented by agent Vince DeGregory now rides with a five-pound advantage . . . Santa Anita Handicap winner Shared Belief is the 2-5 morning line favorite against eight rivals to win Saturday’s $1.5 million Charles Town Classic . . . Kudos to Eclipse Award-winning writer Joe Clancy for giving a shout out to California Chrome trainer Art Sherman and his aides on the announcement that Clancy will receive the David F. Woods Memorial Award for excellence in journalism at the May 14 Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico. Clancy said in part, “The California Chrome story was a great one to tell and really couldn’t have been told so well without the cooperation of trainer Art Sherman and the whole team.” . . . Condolences to family and friends of Paul “Biff” Lowry, 87, a racing publicist and executive for more than 50 years, who passed away April 9 in St. George, Utah. Lowry, reared in Los Angeles, started his career in 1947 at Hollywood Park and retired in January 2001, when the racing community held a luncheon in his honor at Santa Anita.
|SANTA ANITA STATISTICS|
|(Current Through Sunday, April 12)|
|Drayden Van Dyke||226||23||28||26||10%||$1,507,553|
|James M. Cassidy||76||10||8||13||13%||$444,160|
|J. Eric Kruljac||62||8||7||9||13%||$379,140|
|A. C. Avila||25||7||2||3||28%||$208,298|