Mikey Mitchell won’t complicate things.
“My job is to keep it simple,” Mitchell said.
The 28-year-old jockey earned the coveted spot as Jack Fisher’s main jockey this winter. The British-born, Australian-honed and American-flourishing jockey won three races, including the Temple Gwathmey, for Fisher at Middleburg April 21 and came right back to take the $100,000 Queen’s Cup MPC Novice Stakes April 27. With five wins, Mitchell is tied with Jack Doyle and Sean McDermott atop the leaderboard.
“His horses are so well trained,” Mitchell said. “As long as I give them the opportunity, they can take it.”
Aboard for the first time, Mitchell kept it simple on Gibralfaro, placing the Irish-bred 7-year-old in the middle of the nine-horse field at Queen’s Cup, gradually crept into contention leaving the backside the final time, swung into the fray running down the hill and drew off to win by a comfortable 1 3/4 lengths over My Afleet, making his first start since August 2017, and stablemate Storm Team. Owned by Riverdee Stable and trained by Fisher, Gibralfaro collected his second win and first stakes win since leaving Alan King’s yard last winter.
“I was quite content to sit fourth, I was really pleased with the run I got, I was saving as much ground as I could, he switched off, I wasn’t hemmed in, his jumping was great, absolutely great,” Mitchell said. “I made a little ground coming up the hill, I just didn’t want to be too far running down because they can get away from you. Storm Team was in my sights and My Afleet wasn’t getting the best of runs. I gave him plenty of room on the better ground, he met both fences great, once he passed Storm Team, it filled his confidence, he picked the bridle up and went away in hand.”
After riding races Down Under, Mitchell dabbled in America, riding seven races in 2014 and another two in 2016. The following season, he uncurled his rucksack and made a career move, winning nine races, including a Grade 1 aboard Swansea Mile for Ricky Hendriks, in 2017, and another 12, including a Grade 1 aboard Show Court for Arch Kingsley, last season. Over the winter, Fisher wanted to make a change and Mitchell jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s brilliant. I arrived the day after Boxing Day, I was there when the horses started coming in, to see the quality of animals and see them progress,” Mitchell said. “You’re sitting on some of the best in America, schooling a lot, had a few team chases and a bit of timber, easing my way into it a little bit. It’s great to work with an enthusiastic bunch, I live on the farm, you’re there when they’re fed, you see them out in the paddocks at night, I’m living it at the moment, which is great for a jockey.”
With Fisher’s job, there are choices among quality horses.
“I made the choice in February. We went through the novices and asked me which ones I’d take,” Mitchell said of Gibralfaro. “I knew from then he was my novice horse, probably more on his form and consistency, I thought he was very unlucky at Callaway. Very pleased with him and hopefully we can grow on this.”
• “How good was that?”
That’s how Charlie Constable answered his phone, moments after All For Us skipped to a comfortable score in the opener. On the other end of the call, Mike Hankin, who helped spearhead Duodecim Stable to venture into steeplechasing, agreed with the assessment.
As Hankin waited for the Maryland Hunt Cup, Constable and his wife, Katie, collected the trophies for Duodecim after All For Us ran down stablemate Whitman’s Poetry to score by 3 1/2 lengths. Willie McCarthy alighted All For Us to maneuver from the outside post of seven to a stalking spot in third. Once there, they bided their time, waiting when Whitman’s Poetry stormed to the lead leaving the backside before rolling through the stretch to score as McCarthy simply posed.
All For Us collected his third career hurdle score since making his debut for Duodecim and Fisher at the Iroquois Steeplechase in 2016. The long-striding, rangy son of Tiz Wonderful won four races on the flat for Tom Proctor before making a quick conversion to jumping (he ran at Tampa Bay Downs for Proctor March 5, 2016 and won at the Iroquois for Fisher May 14). All For Us hit the board in each of his next five starts that season before missing all of 2017. He returned to win a ratings race at Shawan Downs and finish sixth in the Foxbrook at Far Hills to close 2018.
All For Us improved his steeplechase record to three wins from nine starts for nearly $100,000.
“That horse has so much power. He’s calm under pressure. And he’s got a great jockey,” Constable said. “Michael Hankin is a wonderful guy, wonderful friend. He had the foresight to say, ‘Let’s get more people involved in racing, let’s spread that word.’ I took that challenge and got a group of friends together, we’ve gotten very lucky, we recognized that. Everybody was new. They think it’s really easy and they’ll continue to think that today. I tell them, ‘Temper your expectations but enjoy it while it lasts.’ It’s so fun. No one cares what you win, it’s just about winning.”
• Sean McDermott gunned. Corky Lemon responded. His six rivals sputtered. Nancy Ruch loved it.
“I thought it was perfect,” the trainer said of the definitive move in the maiden hurdle. “I told Sean if he made it to the front that the horse was honest and would go all day long, so just rock.”
McDermott picked up his guitar and jammed like Jagger, kicking Corky Lemon at each hurdle down the backside the final time and opening a commanding lead on four first-time starters and two overmatched rivals. Corky Lemon, owned and trained by Nancy and her husband, Jason, rolled clear to win by 5 3/4 lengths over the debuting Snap Decision, clearly with bigger goals ahead, and You’re No Better.
Corky Lemon won seven races on the flat, piquing Jason’s attention as he toiled going 6 1/2 or 7 furlongs at Charles Town last year. The son of Denis Of Cork finished sixth for a $6,250 tag in August and became the annual one-horse project of Smallwood Stable. Based in Camden for the winter, Nancy and Jason find a horse from the flat, teach them to jump and hope for the best. Their endeavor earned $24,000 at Queen’s Cup and perhaps another score if a buyer comes knocking.
“Sean rode him brilliantly. It’s Jason’s horse, he picked him, he rides him, I’m just here to collect the trophies,” Nancy said as she walked back to the barn (Jason was already there with Corky Lemon). “Jason watched him for a year, we were hoping they would sell him, it was Jason’s picks. I love Queen’s Cup, we’ve always had good luck here, it’s beautiful here.”
• Seven years.
That’s how long Quinn Scala had been wanting and waiting, hoping and hankering to win a sanctioned jump race.
It was worth the wait.
The 10-pound apprentice rode her eighth career NSA race at the Queen’s Cup and scored her first career win, guiding Hanno to a come-from-behind win in the steeplethon. Owned by Gillian Johnston and trained by Jack Fisher, Hanno improved his timber record to 2-for-2 since converting last fall.
Scala settled Hannon in the back of the five-horse field, gradually moved forward after Giza fell on the backside and longtime leader Handsome Hoyt fell at the critical timber fence in the stretch. From there, Hanno switched to the inside and rolled past Boogie Biz and Ride Away to score by a deceptively strong 1 1/4 lengths.
“That was unreal, that was so fun, I couldn’t have asked for a better spin around that course,” Scala said. “I’ve wanted to do this since I started working at Jack’s, seven years ago, to do it here…my first time being here…that was amazing.”
Scala has ridden sparingly at point-to-points since guiding B’s Little Magic to wins in the large pony division of the field master chases in 2010. She won an open hurdle aboard Hinterland at the Middleburg Point-to-Point in 2017, before and after, there were flat spins aboard Mr. Hot Stuff, Selection Sunday, Overwhelming, Lord Justice and Scorpiancer and timber rides aboard Ballylifen, Delta Park and Hanno. Wins weren’t forthcoming, doubters were.
“There were times when a couple of the boys said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t ride races, maybe it’s just not your thing.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think that. I work hard here at Jack’s to prove myself to do what? To gallop them up the track every day.’ I don’t want to do that,” Scala said. “I said I would ride the point-to-points and see what I can get there. Green Spring did not go that great with Hanno. Jack said I needed to be more engaged so I was a bit worried today that was out the back, that wasn’t the plan. Up the backside the third time, I still had a load of horse in my hand. I said, if I can just sit over these next couple of timber fences, I can send him over the Easyfix, he flies home, he’s got more gears.”
Hanno had gears like the Maserati on display earlier at the Queen’s Cup. This winter, Scala began the campaign to ride the 8-year-old son of Henrythenavigator, 1-for-13 over hurdles and 1-for-1 over timber.
“I was hunting him over the winter. I just knew he had so much in him, he’s such a gorgeous jumper. I rode him every day, I’m the only one who schools him,” Scala said. “I was devastated last week, he was meant to run at the Grand National and I said to Jack, ‘This is not a good idea, it won’t suit him, it’s a huge step up.’ Then I said, ‘Where’s he going next?’ He said, ‘Queen’s Cup.’ I said, ‘Can I ride him?’ He said, ‘That’s not the plan yet.’ An hour later, he calls me and says, ‘OK, you get to ride Hanno. By the way, call Gill back.’ I was like, ‘OK. Perfect.’ It feels really good to do that for Gill, to prove myself finally.”
Fisher and Willie McCarthy, who had been instrumental in helping Scala achieve her goal, rewarded her with a dunk in the water trough near the finish line.
“That was a thrill of a lifetime,” Scala said.
She was talking about the race.