10/20/2008 12:00AM

Mitchell's the man with Midas touch


ARCADIA, Calif. - A guy known for transforming claiming horses into long-distance stakes winners, Mike Mitchell was in an unusual spot Sunday at Santa Anita, talking about his 2-year-old filly Mi Chiamano Mimi, six-furlong winner in a blazing 1:07.93.

It was after Mi Chiamano Mimi earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Anoakia Stakes that someone suggested Mitchell's reputation needed revision, from veteran-marathon trainer to juvenile-sprint trainer. Mitchell laughed, and said he would have none of it.

"Hey, I made my living making horses go long that no one thought could go long!" he said. "I can still train a horse to go a mile and a half."

Mitchell will try to prove it with Big Booster and Church Service, contenders in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Marathon, a $500,000 race at 1 1/2 miles on the main track that is the first of nine BC races Saturday.

Big Booster and Church Service are former $50,000 claimers that won graded turf stakes for Mitchell, who also transformed former claimers Star Over the Bay, Sun Boat, On the Acorn, and Kessem Power into stakes winners.

With Big Booster and Church Service, Mitchell recognized the thin talent pool among long-distance horses on synthetic, and he figured both geldings would fit right in.

"I'm not saying that if Santa Anita was dirt I wouldn't be running them, but I do think the synthetic helps both my horses," he said.

Big Booster is a Grade 2 winner on turf; his three synthetic starts include a win in a 1 1/2-mile stakes. Church Service is a Grade 3 turf winner; he lost a Grade 3 on synthetic by a nose.

Which horse is better? "If you put a gun to my head, you'd have to shoot me, because I could not pick who is the better horse," Mitchell said.

Neither has raced since summer, but Mitchell said the two-month layoff for Church Service and three-month layoff for Big Booster were by design.

"They've been in constant training," Mitchell said. "I can get them ready off workouts."

* The likelihood of Fairbanks switching to the BC Classic means European import Sixties Icon or locally based Zappa could start favored in the Marathon.

Zappa would benefit most if Fairbanks switches races. That would leave the race without a true front-runner, the same paceless scenario under which Zappa won the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II at Del Mar.