08/02/2011 12:23PM

Del Mar training milestone within reach for Mitchell

Shigeki Kikkawa
Mike Mitchell will saddle St Trinians in the Clement Hirsch on Saturday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Mike Mitchell’s first winner at Del Mar, appropriately enough, was with a claimer.

Macadamian won a $12,500 claimer over six furlongs by 2 1/4 lengths on July 26, 1975, paid $3.20, and earned a purse of $3,575.

Mitchell was 27, and had three stalls, loaned by trainer Willard Proctor. At the time, Farrell Jones, for whom Mitchell once worked, was established as the track’s all-time winningest trainer.

Sometime before the current meeting ends on Sept. 7, Mitchell is expected to gain that distinction, and he will have done so with a stable largely built through claimers. Through Sunday, Mitchell trailed current leader Ron McAnally on Del Mar’s all-time list, 436-433. Jones ranks third with 374 wins.

With a 45-horse stable, more than double the size of McAnally’s, Mitchell, now 63, is likely to reach the top soon.

“I haven’t done it yet,” he said last weekend. “If I have the meeting I usually have, it would be really quite an honor.”

“I’ve loved Del Mar. It’s been my favorite place to go. I remember when my dad trained here we came here. When my kids were young, we came here. I’ve never looked at it as work. I look at is as vacation. I wish we had a few more weeks to run here.”

The working vacation has resulted in six training titles, the most recent of which was in 1996. Last year, Mitchell had 16 wins and finished in a tie for third. Through Sunday, he was in contention for the 2011 title with four wins, one behind leader John Sadler.

This summer, Mitchell’s family is with him – wife Denise and adult daughters Shea Mitchell and McCall Rounsefell.

Shea is a performer in stage shows at Disneyland. “It just proves that two terrible voices can produce a pretty one,” Mitchell said.

McCall, the wife of Australian-based bloodstock agent Craig Rounsefell, is spending the summer at Del Mar.

It’s a guarantee they will be in the winner’s circle if Mitchell passes McAnally’s milestone, which could easily occur with a claimer. In recent months, Mitchell’s stable has nearly doubled in size as owners invested in bloodstock in advance of the popular Del Mar meeting.

“Three months ago, I was down to 25 horses,” he said. “I picked up some new owners, and I’ve got money to spend. I’m looking for horses. The problem is finding the horse. The claiming box is crazy right now.

“Some owners like the quick turnover. Some don’t mind buying a young horse and taking time to develop them. That’s a fun part of the game.”

The Mitchell stable is not all about claimers, though. He has 17 stakes wins at Del Mar, the most recent of which was Grazen in the 2009 El Cajon Stakes.

Saturday, Mitchell starts St Trinians in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes for fillies and mares, the championship race of the meeting for the division. Last year, St Trinians did not make the Clement Hirsch after finishing second to Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in June of that year.

Mitchell intended to run St Trinians but couldn’t. She was too worn out from the Vanity, and wound up getting a vacation that lasted until earlier this year.

“It was nothing major, she was just body sore all over,” Mitchell said. “I think in that race she ran 110 percent. She ran everything she had and then some.”

This year, St Trinians is winless four starts, with an asterisk. She finished first in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park in May but was disqualified and placed fourth for causing interference in the stretch.

Chantal Sutherland will ride St Trinians for the first time in the Clement Hirsch.

“We’ll be ready,” Mitchell said.

Later this month, Mitchell will start Camp Victory in the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien Stakes over seven furlongs. There is a promising 2-year-old filly in the barn called Egg Drop, who has been working well in recent weeks.

“Every time she hits the racetrack, I pray she comes back good,” Mitchell said. “I just love her. She’s fast and can really run. I’m looking to run her once here.”

McAnally, 79, once employed Mitchell, and is philosophical about the expected change at the top of the standings.

“Records are made to be broken,” McAnally said.

Mitchell himself realizes that he may be caught someday by the 58-year-old Bob Baffert, who had 362 wins through Sunday.

“I know Bob is right behind me,” he said. “Bobby is not 80. He’s young.”

For now, Mitchell is the one positioned to reach the top.