03/20/2013 2:42PM

Santa Anita: Trainer Mitchell, healthy again, looks forward to big spring

Benoit & Associaties
Trainer Mike Mitchell, 65, got good news recently when doctors learned that a brain tumor that required surgery last summer had shrunk in size.

ARCADIA, Calif. – This truly is a spring of personal and professional revival for California trainer Mike Mitchell.

Three of his stakes winners from 2012 – turf marathoner Dhaamer, turf miler Obviously, and sprinter Camp Victory – are nearing their first starts of the year. Dhaamer will have his 2013 debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita.

Mitchell has been at Santa Anita on a regular basis in recent weeks to oversee their preparation. That would not have been possible last fall.

A few weeks ago, Mitchell was told by doctors that a brain tumor that required surgery last summer had shrunk in size. The unexpected news left the 65-year-old trainer overwhelmed with joy.

“The other day, we went in and did the tests, the MRI,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “The doctor came in and said the tumor is shrinking. I became very emotional. It was something I didn’t expect to hear. It was a special moment.”

The brain tumor, diagnosed last June, kept Mitchell’s activity at the stable to a bare minimum last summer. In late July and August, he was an infrequent visitor to Del Mar for his favorite race meeting of the year. His presence increased through the later months of the year.

In late 2012, Mitchell hoped for better news from doctors.

“I remember the doctor telling me that the tumor had not gone away,” he said. “It disappointed me. I wanted to hear that the tumor was gone. The doctor said, ‘Mike, I don’t know if we told you, but you’ve got a type of tumor that is aggressive. We’re happy that it doesn’t grow.’ This is something I’ve never had to deal with.”

Mitchell continues treatment as part of a clinical study on brain tumors at the University of Southern California. While he undergoes a regimen of chemotherapy every 60 days, Mitchell has resumed an active role at the stable.

He is at the barn almost daily, overseeing 35 horses with assistant Phil D’Amato. Last summer, when Mitchell was away, D’Amato and Mitchell’s son-in-law, Craig Rounsefell, ran the stable on his behalf, staying in frequent telephone communication with the trainer.

Rounsefell, a bloodstock agent, has since returned to his native Australia but is expected to spend the summer in California with his wife, Mitchell’s daughter McCall.

Rounsefell helped to select Dhaamer in England in the fall of 2011.

Last summer, a few weeks after Mitchell’s operation, Dhaamer won the first graded stakes of his career in the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Betfair Hollywood Park. Julien Leparoux, who married Mitchell’s daughter Shea, in December, had the mount.

Mitchell was in the winner’s circle with his family that day.

“To have one son-in-law ride him and another pick him out was special,” Mitchell said.

Dhaamer had one more start in 2012, finishing second by a neck in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap as the 6-5 favorite in August. After that, Mitchell ended the gelding’s season.

“All I did was freshen him up,” Mitchell said. “I was hard on him. I definitely thought at the time he deserved a break because I knew I was going to be hard on him next year. It was time to give him a break.”

Owned by Edward Brown Jr. and Jay Manoogian, Dhaamer was second in the 2012 Tokyo City Cup over 1 1/2 miles on dirt in his first start in the United States. The performance gives Mitchell confidence that Dhaamer can be a factor Saturday against a field that will include Calidoscopio, unraced since winning the Breeders’ Cup Marathon here last November.

“He did really well in the Tokyo City before,” Mitchell said.

On April 6, Camp Victory, who was 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November, will run in the $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs. Last June, Camp Victory won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Mitchell watched the Triple Bend with his wife, Denise, and two daughters in his hospital room a day after undergoing surgery.

Obviously, who won two Grade 2 stakes last year and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile behind Horse of the Year Wise Dan, does not have a scheduled comeback. Obviously, a 5-year-old gelding, resumed workouts earlier this month.

“We have no races in sight,” Mitchell said. “I gave him a nice break because I knew I’d be hard on him again.”

Another promising runner is Mel’s Game, who won an allowance race last Sunday and is a candidate for the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 27.

Last fall, Mitchell moved his stable from Hollywood Park to Santa Anita. He said he likes the current size of his barn and having the operation at one venue.

“I don’t want 60 horses,” he said. “I don’t want big payrolls. To have them all in one place and be able to watch all the horses is better.”

After the events of the last year, just being part of everything is satisfaction enough.