Mike Mitchell, 64, was diagnosed Monday with a brain tumor, according to his wife Denise. With 884 victories at Betfair Hollywood Park, the trainer is second on the all-time list, 68 behind Bobby Frankel. Just last Saturday, Mitchell saddled Potesta for a game victory in the Grade II Hollywood Oaks.
“He’s at USC Medical Center right now and is scheduled for surgery tomorrow at 9 a.m.” said Denise. “Hopefully, they can remove the tumor and then run tests. We won’t know anything until after the surgery.”
In his absence, longtime assistant trainer Phil D’Amato will handle Mitchell’s business.
GAME ON DUDE, NEW HUSBAND AND AGENT HAVE SUTHERLAND SMILING
Many things in her life have changed recently—a new husband and agent for example—but multiple Grade I winner Game On Dude remains the anchor of Chantal Sutherland’s professional life.
The Awesome Again gelding’s victory in the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap made Sutherland the first female rider to win the prestigious event, a milestone she hopes to duplicate in the upcoming Grade I, $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, which will be run for the 73rd time Saturday, July 7.
Sutherland has now ridden Game On Dude eight times and has four victories and two seconds. His only poor effort was in the Dubai World Cup March 31st, where the 5-year-old finished 12th of 13.
“There were a couple of things about Dubai,” explained Sutherland. “I think the humidity had a lot to do with his poor performance. As a runner, I know that when you go from a climate like we have here and try to jog where there’s a lot of humidity, you sweat so much more. The electrolytes and everything are different. It takes them a while to adjust. It’s a lot easier on them when they come back to this kind of environment.”
Game On Dude worked five furlongs in 58 3/5 seconds June 18th and 59 4/5 June 25th, both at Santa Anita, following an eye-catching 7 1-4 length victory in the Grade II Californian June 2nd.
“I haven’t worked him,” Sutherland continued, “but I get reports on how he’s doing. I get to ride him, and that’s the fun part. I genuinely love this horse. He recognizes me and he’s like having a dog that wants to please you. He’s a very sensitive horse. When I go to ride him, the first part of the race I stay quiet. When I get to the quarter pole or have to make a move, he pins his ears, puts his head down and he just knows. I just think go and he goes.
“His last race (Californian) was so easy. I think I raised my stick and put it in my left hand, but that’s all I did.”
Her praise for Bob Baffert is heartfelt and her assessment comes from carefully observing the trainer.
“Bob’s an amazing trainer and he’s very particular with what he wants,’’ she said. “He likes to stick to one or two jockeys. They get to know his system. He just wants you to ride a certain way and do things within his system. He had Martin (Garcia) and Martin’s gone now. Rafael (Bejarano) is in there now. I’ve been working horses all week at his barn. Will it come to fruition that I’ll ride more for him? I don’t know and I could never be so presumptuous. Of course, I’d love to. I’d work every day at his barn if that’s what he wanted.”
When she returned from Dubai, Sutherland changed agents from Brian Beach to Tommy Ball. “I already knew that I would be making a change before I left,” explained the rider. I like Brian, but sometimes it works and sometimes there’s just no chemistry.”
Sutherland’s romance with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith was chronicled on the Animal Planet series “Jockeys.” The two have been apart for a couple of years and the 36-year-old married Dan Kruse March 21.
“We’re not planning to have children,” Sutherland said. “If I did, I would definitely have to stop racing. Dan has two daughters, Mandy and Dani. They’re 18 and 21. They come and they go and I kind of enjoy it. That’s enough work for me.”
MARIO GUTIERREZ NOMINATED FOR ESPN ESPY AWARD
Mario Gutierrez, who became nationally prominent with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard I’ll Have Another, is among four nominees for the 2012 Espy Award for Top Jockey.
Joining Gutierrez as finalists are Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez and John Velasquez. The Espy’s are awarded to the top vote-getters in a wide spectrum of sports categories.
To participate, go to www.espn.go.com/espys/. The winners will be announced on the ESPN broadcast of the Espys July 11th.
Gutierrez will be at Charles Town Saturday to ride Innocent Man for Patrick Biancone in the $400,000 Red Legend Stakes at 7 furlongs. Also representing Southern California in the Red Legend will be Peter Miller-trained Majestic City, winner of the 2011 Hollywood Juvenile Championship.
On Monday, Gutierrez will head to Hastings Park, where he’ll ride several races on the Canada Day card.
JAPANESE JOCKEY EN ROUTE TO HOLLYWOOD PARK VIA KENTUCKY
Japanese jockey Yuichi Fukinaga will ride at Churchill Downs this weekend before launching a summertime campaign in Southern California, his agent, Brian Beach, said Tuesday.
Fukunaga, the leading rider at Japan Racing Association tracks in 2011 and this year, is expected to begin riding at Hollywood Park the week of July 4th. Beach said the 35-year-old Fukunaga completed visa documents earlier this week. He is scheduled to ride in Southern California through the end of the Del Mar meeting September 5th, a time when the Japanese racing season does not have any Grade I races.
Fukunaga is familiar with Hollywood Park. In 2005, he won the Grade I American Oaks aboard Cesario. A winner of more than 1,400 races, Fukunaga has been riding since 1996.
CLOSING STRIDES— In his first day riding full time at Belmont Park Wednesday, Joel Rosario had mixed results. The 27-year-old rode two horses-both for Wesley Ward -finishing fifth with 2-1 Searchingforahero in the second race and second at 8-1 with Handsome Jack in the Track Barron Stakes….. David Flores will be out of town Saturday to ride Awesome Gem for Craig Dollase in the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows….. Mike Superstein, whose analysis appears on the Betfair Hollywood Park web site, will be Kurt Hoover’s guest Saturday on the Inside Scoop, a free handicapping seminar that begins at 12 Noon at the Paddock Tote Board….. Rachel Woods and Gil Mason tied for first place with 46.20 points in the 2012 Spring Handicapping Challenge. They each selected four out of six winners, including longshot Da Ruler. Each will receive a voucher worth $2,250. Michele Salazar finished third with 43.20 points and will take home $500…… Michael Franti and Spearhead will perform in the Friday Night Live Concert Series at Betfair Hollywood Park June 29th. The concert gets under way following the last race, approximately 10: 30 p.m. Admission is $10 before 8:30 – $20 after.
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