ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Mike Mitchell, the all-time leading thoroughbred trainer at Del Mar racetrack with 476 victories, has died after a long struggle with brain cancer. He was 66.
He died Tuesday at his home in Monrovia, not far from Santa Anita racetrack, where he won two training titles and 659 races. Track officials confirmed his death Wednesday. Mitchell had turned his stable over to longtime assistant Phil D’Amato last April and retired because of his illness.
Mitchell won 19 training titles on the Southern California circuit, including seven at Del Mar, the last coming in 2011 at the seaside track north of San Diego. His biggest success came late in his career with Ireland-bred Obviously, who won five graded stakes races in 2012-13 and finished third in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita. Mitchell earned his first Grade 1 victory with Kela in the 2004 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.
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The son of a trainer, Mitchell took out his trainer’s license in 1974 after working for famed trainers Farrell Jones and Willard Proctor. He saddled his first winner later that year at Bay Meadows in Northern California. He was born in Bakersfield.
Mitchell was known for his prowess at claiming lower-level horses and turning them into winners of higher-level races.
”The thing about Mike that I loved about him was he had so much faith in himself, so much confidence,” retired Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. said. ”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.”
Mitchell’s last stakes winner was Egg Drop in the Grade 2 Goldikova Stakes at Santa Anita in 2013. He won five training titles at now-closed Hollywood Park and one at Fairplext Park in 2008.
Veteran jockey agent Scotty McClellan recalled Mitchell’s sense of humor.
”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.”
Mitchell is survived by his wife, Denise; daughters McCall and Shea, who is married to jockey Julien Leparoux; twin sister Cheryl; and brothers Earl Jr., Guy and Casey.