All-Weather racing has been a big part of jockey Jack Mitchell’s life for as long as he can remember. He was a nine-year-old boy when father Philip won the first ever Winter Derby with his international war horse Running Stag in 1998.
The gelding’s exploits at home then around the world fuelled his desire to become a race rider and it wasn’t long before he was gaining experience on two lots each morning before heading off to school.
Now, almost two decades later, Mitchell is reflecting upon his best ever season in the saddle, one that has yielded over 80 winners on sand and turf - the majority for top trainers Roger Varian, Simon Crisford and Hugo Palmer.
A dozen of those winners have been achieved on the All-Weather since Season 7 got underway in late October, sitting him comfortably inside the top 10 in the championship race.
And how fitting it is that Lingfield Park - the track that propelled Running Stag to stardom all those years ago - has provided Mitchell with over 50 of his 400-plus careers successes so far.
“When he won the Winter Derby I watched the race from a friend’s house,” he recalls. “I’d been playing football and got back in time to see Ray Cochrane start what turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime for my family.”
The four-year-old had a comfortable three and a half lengths to spare over his nearest rival Refuse To Lose in what was then a conditions race, inspiring Mitchell Snr to take on the American dirt stars in their own back yards.
“I never got to go on any of those international trips - I was always at school - but those days were still so exciting,” he adds. “There wasn’t races for a horse like him in this country back then - the programme book is so much better now.
“That’s why dad had the idea to race him abroad and how good was his judgement! He had total belief in the horse and what they achieved was unbelievable. They were pioneers for what All-Weather racing has become today.”
Running Stag won three Grade 2 races Stateside in little more than two years: the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park, the Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Saratoga and the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs, and enjoyed one of his finest moments in defeat when second to Jim And Tonic in the 1999 Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin.
“He was a feisty colt,” recalls Mitchell. “His stable was the first one you came to when you walked out of dad’s office at Downs House Stables in Epsom. We didn’t have a big string and he was the star of the show.”
Mitchell Snr’s assistant Roger Teal - himself a successful amateur jockey - rode Running Stag in all his work at home and played a key role in young Jack’s development as a rider.
“Roger was a very good rider and taught me all the tricks of the trade,” he recalls. “Dad has always been there to help and guide me but Roger was also a big influence on me as a youngster so it was lovely to ride winners for him when he started training in his own right.”
Mitchell was still a relative fledgling of the weighing room when he came close to winning the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes for Teal - then training in his own right in Epsom - on Cochabamba in 2010.
That association continues to this day and Mitchell was on board Teal’s impressive Chelmsford winner SPIRIT OF MAY in mid-December. That was his 18th winner for the now Lambourn-based handler at a level stakes profit of over £65.
“It’s been a fantastic year. I’ve ridden more winners than ever but I’ve been getting on better quality horses for top trainers,” he says.
“Roger (Varian) continues to support me and keeps me busy this time of year riding work on the Al Bahathri and Racecourse Side. He has Andrea Atzeni and David Egan who are both top class jockeys but there are plenty of nice horses for all of us.
“I’ve always been happy heading north to ride a well-bred young horse with a chance of winning. I’d rather do that’s than pick up a few moderate rides at the bigger meetings,” he adds.
“Roger’s colt KHALOOSY is a perfect example. I went up to Newcastle to ride him in his first race and he ran promisingly to be second, but when he stepped him up to 1m at Wolverhampton he just took off with me. He could be very exciting.
“Simon (Crisford) has also been very good to me and, like Roger, has so many nice young horses with pedigrees to die for. He is planning to run a lot of inexperienced youngsters in the new year so I’m looking forward to getting on a few of those.”
Mitchell has also linked up effectively with Classic-winning trainer Hugo Palmer, winning three times on his progressive young stayer PATHS OF GLORY, who could yet become a contender for the Marathon Championship.
“He’s a nice horse who will stay further than 1m4f - I have no doubt about that. He needed every yard to get up and win over that distance at Wolverhampton and has run well since in races that haven’t been run too suit him. I don’t know if Hugo plans to step him up in trip but he’s a nice staying prospect for next year.”
Another trainer Mitchell has forged a profitable partnership with is Midlands-based Kevin Frost. “I’ve been very impressed with Kevin,” he adds. “He knows the time of day and is always very accurate about what he expects from his horses.
“I’ve won twice on his best horse DOCUMENTING from just two rides and he could put Kevin on the map this winter. It’s a pity there isn’t a 7f race at Lingfield on Good Friday because that’s his trip but Kevin plans to run him in the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton in March and that could be his race.”
The stylish Mitchell is enjoying his prominent position on the All-Weather Championship leaderboard but believes early front-runner Ben Curtis will be tough to peg back.
“He’s built up a big lead going into Christmas and if he keeps going in the new year, as I expect he will, then I can’t see him being caught.”
He is also full of praise for record-breaking Hollie Doyle, who is among Curtis’s leading rivals. “Hollie is an unbelievably strong rider,” he says. “Not only is she an excellent jockey but she’s also a really nice person and fully deserves her success.
“Horses run for her, but she is deceptively strong and even when you see her upsides one of the top jockeys in a driving finish you’re never surprised to see her come out on top.”
The record Mitchell has in his sights is another personal best in 2020, and with such powerful battalions behind him, you wouldn’t bet against him reaching his maiden century in 12 months’ time.