By Tod Marks
After a brilliant career on both sides of the Atlantic, National Steeplechase Association jockey Michael Mitchell has decided to hang up his tack.
The Englishman, known around the track as Mikey, brings down the curtain after 10 years in the saddle that saw him reach the pinnacle of steeplechase racing as champion rider in both New Zealand and the U.S. During those years, Mitchell also competed in England, France, and Australia.
“Now at the age of 30, I feel it’s the right time to return home to England and spend more time with family and have more stability in my life,” Mitchell said. “Horse racing has been a huge part of my life and it will continue to be, in some form. From the people involved, to the experiences I have been privileged to enjoy, racing has given me so much and I thank everyone who has supported me throughout my riding career.”
Mitchell rode on the NSA circuit in 2014, and then from 2016 to 2020, amassing a record of 52 wins in 281 starts, with 38 seconds and 39 thirds. Among his best horses were Grade 1 winners Show Court, Swansea Mile, and Moscato, last year’s Eclipse Award winning steeplechaser. Overall, Mitchell won a total of 130 races from 790 career starts, earning more than $3.2 million in purses. In New Zealand in 2015, Mitchell captured the Grand National on High Forty.
NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo had high praise for Mitchell upon learning of his retirement. “Michael Mitchell was one of the classiest, most professional jump jockeys I have ever been around. His decision to not ride on the final day of the season in 2019, and share the championship with an injured Jack Doyle, was the ultimate act of sportsmanship. I didn’t know him well, but I know he was one of a kind.”
Gallo was, of course, talking about the defining act of Mitchell’s U.S. career. After Mitchell got off to a swift start in 2019, Jack Doyle battled back in the late summer and into the fall, and the two dueled for the title of leader rider for the remainder of the campaign.
Doyle arrived at Callaway Gardens in Georgia with a one-win lead over Mitchell, who drew even when he guided Storm Team past his rival, on City Dreamer, in the $75,000 AFLAC Supreme novice hurdle stakes. In the following race, Doyle had a chance to snatch the lead back, but his mount, Zanzi Win, fell at the last and Doyle got kicked by an oncoming horse. Doyle’s season was over with a broken jaw and other injuries, and Mitchell had a chance to wrap up championship honors at the finale in Charleston.
But in a remarkable act of sportsmanship and respect, Mitchell opted not to compete, thus ensuring that the two would share the title with 20 wins apiece.