04/14/2015 7:01PM

Former trainer Mike Mitchell dies at 66

Shigeki Kikkawa
Former trainer Mike Mitchell died Tuesday at age 66.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Mike Mitchell, the winningest trainer in Del Mar history who won 21 training titles in Southern California, died on Tuesday of the effects of  a brain tumor diagnosed in 2012, according to friends of the family. Mitchell was 66.

Mitchell retired from active training last April, turning over his stable to longtime assistant Phil D’Amato. Mitchell took a lesser role in the stable through the rest of 2014 and into this year and frequently attended races and morning workouts. He was an occasional visitor at Santa Anita in the mornings earlier this year but was in hospice care at his home near the racetrack in recent weeks.

Mitchell began training in 1974 and won 2,678 races, mostly in Southern California. His runners earned $67,206,392. Mitchell won a career-best 127 races in 1983 and set a career high for earnings in a season with $4,571,184 in 2008, when his stable had 108 wins.

“He’s a Hall of Fame trainer in my mind,” D’Amato said Tuesday. “But he’s a Hall of Fame father, too.”

Mitchell achieved milestones at the four leading racetracks in Southern California that operated during his career – Del Mar, Fairplex Park, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita.

At Del Mar, Mitchell won a record 454 races in his career and seven training titles, most recently in 2011. He often described the Del Mar summer season as his favorite time of the year, largely because he was joined at the venue by his family.

Mitchell won 25 stakes at Del Mar, notably the 2004 Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien handicaps with Kela, the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap with Monzante in 2008, and the Del Mar Mile in 2012 and 2013 with Obviously. The 2004 Bing Crosby was Mitchell’s first Grade 1 win.

At Santa Anita, Mitchell won 659 races and two training titles at the track’s winter-spring meeting, leaving him fifth on the all-time list behind the late Bobby Frankel, who won a record 917 races. Mitchell’s biggest stakes wins at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting included Ever a Friend in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile in 2008 and consecutive runnings of the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap with On the Acorn in 2007 and Big Booster in 2008.

At the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, which was run through 2009, Mitchell’s biggest win was Star Over the Bay’s success in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes in 2004. He won four training titles at Oak Tree meetings, most recently in 2004.

At Hollywood Park, where his stable was based for decades, Mitchell won seven training titles – four at the spring-summer meeting and three at the track’s autumn meeting. Mitchell finished his career second in career wins at Hollywood Park with 905 victories, behind Frankel with 952.

Mitchell won the final Grade 1 race of his career, when Egg Drop won the Matriarch Stakes in November 2013 at Hollywood Park.