Updated on 01/04/2012 4:26PM

Kentucky horseman Mitch Shirota dead at age 78

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Mitch Shirota, a lifelong horseman who worked for more than 40 years as a jockey and trainer on the Kentucky circuit, died early Wednesday at Suburban Hospital following a lengthy illness. He was 78.

According to his daughter, Lori Gowen, Shirota had suffered in recent weeks with pulmonary fibrosis. Shirota suffered for years with arthritis, which contributed to his retirement from training in 2007.

Shirota was born on the Hawaiian island of Maui and moved to California in 1952. He began riding on the California fair circuit in 1958, riding his first winner at the old Agua Caliente. In the early 1960s he moved to Kentucky, where he rode at the major tracks but did his best at tracks such as Miles Park, Ellis Park, and Latonia. He turned to training in 1977 and enjoyed his best year in 1992, when his stable earnings were $573,861. Probably his top horses were Firm Stance, winner of the Grade 1 Top Flight at Aqueduct in 1992, and Shaconage, a turf mare who won two Grade 3 races at the 2004 spring meet at Churchill Downs. In all, Shirota trained 236 winners for earnings of nearly $5.7 million.

Besides his daughter, Shirota is survived by his wife, Lynda. A funeral service is tentatively planned for Saturday in the Churchill Downs chapel.