By Jon Lees
GB: After riding his first four-time on Saturday at Salisbury, Jack Mitchell was only half a length away from capping the perfect perfect weekend in the IDEE 151st Deutsches Derby in Hamburg on Sunday.
His mount Torquator Tasso had mastered favourite Wonderful Moon and looked set to deliver his jockey a first G1 victory – only for In Swoop to emerge to their right and postpone Mitchell’s big moment to another day.
Mind you, it was still a profitable visit, Mitchell’s share of £110,000 second prize-money representing the jockey’s richest payday – only 24 hours after he rode four winners at combined odds of 379-1.
“It could have been five as I was probably unlucky not to win on Tom Clover’s horse in the second last at Salisbury as well!” says Mitchell.
“The connections of Torquator Tasso were hopeful about the horse running huge but knew he was still such a big baby,” he adds, reflecting on his Classic near-miss in Germany, where he won the G3 St Leger in 2017 on Oriental Eagle.
“Without lockdown he would have had another race beforehand, but it was still a huge run. It’s the closest I have been to winning a G1.”
Fifteen years after he became the latest of the Mitchell family dynasty to make a career in the sport, at the age of 31 he finds himself one of the breakout stars of the 2020 Flat season.
With 25 wins since the restart – 47 for the year – recorded at a 22 per cent strike rate, the rider has propelled himself into the top ten in the Flat jockeys’ championship without being first choice to any individual stable.
“I got a few people texting me on Saturday telling me I was actually eighth in the championship ahead of some big names,” he says.
For that he credits his agent Steve Croft and a one-meeting-per-day limit, imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has delivered more rides with winning chances.
“I have a very good support system, with the trainers I ride for and the horses they have,” says Mitchell. “They are Roger Varian, Roger Teal, Simon and Ed Crisford, Chris Wall, Tom Clover and Hugo Palmer.
“The goal this year is numbers – to try to ride 100 winners if I can. Obviously we have had the lockdown, but it’s started all right.
“What has helped is the one-meeting restriction,” he goes on. “I wouldn’t normally ride for Charlie Hills or Richard Hannon because I would be going to one meeting for Roger Varian and then trying to pick up spares elsewhere.
“That happened at Salisbury where I was going to ride a very nice newcomer [Tinker Toy] for Roger Varian and we built a card around it. Previously I could have ridden in the early races and Andrea Atzeni [Varian’s stable jockey] could have driven down from Ascot to ride the nice horse.
“Tinker Toy is a horse I probably won’t ride next time but I got the job done and that might lead to some more winners.”
Mitchell grew up in Epsom at the stables where his father Philip trained the millionaire Running Stag and his grandfather Cyril Mitchell trained top sprinter Be Friendly and hurdler Attivo during the 60s and 70s.
Younger brother Freddie was a successful amateur rider and is now assistant to Jamie Snowden, while half-brother Guy, a GP and racecourse doctor, made history last year when becoming the first person with one eye to ride in a horse race in Britain as an amateur.
Mitchell also has a lifelong link with July Cup-winning trainer Teal, who spent a long period as Philip Mitchell’s assistant before branching out on his own.
The network has helped Mitchell rebuild after an enforced six-month spell out of the saddle in 2012 having tested positive for cocaine. A remorseful Mitchell left Newmarket briefly for Lambourn but he managed four winners on his return that year and only four in 2013.
“It wasn’t a nice time but I didn’t want to give up,” he says, “I went to Lambourn to try to get in with a couple of yards but it didn’t really work out.”
He and wife Suzanne returned to Newmarket where a chance encounter with Varian provided the catalyst for a turnaround in fortunes.
“I met Roger in the midwife’s office because my wife was pregnant and so was his,” he recalls. “He rang me the next day and asked me if I’d like to come back. From then on things have just got better and better.”
Mitchell’s highlight for Varian is a G3 victory in the 2015 Sceptre Stakes on Realtra, plus a handful of Listed wins.
The jockey took his Group tally to five on Teal’s Kenzai Warrior in last year’s Horris Hill Stakes and hopes Torquator Tasso, who could head to the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden, and the Teal two-year-old Gussy Mac could take him nearer to his goals. Having won a Listed race at Sandown earlier this month on the latter, he describes him as “a lovely little progressive colt”.
“I want to ride those big-race winners and have those great days,” he adds. “Obviously there are low days as well but I think I can deal with the low days now having had to graft from the bottom up again.”