The owners' race is over, hell, it’s been over since the Iroquois when Bruton Street US went 1-3 in the big one with Scorpiancer and Moscato and Snap Decision finished a roughed-up second, signaling he was the best maiden in the game. They added Pravalaguna and a few others to dominate the standings.
The trainers' race is over, hell, it’s been over since the first few weeks of the spring when Jack Fisher launched grenades and won everything. The Maryland-based horsemen broke his own records this year, on his way to the Hall of Fame whenever he’s eligible.
As for the jockeys, well, that looked over this summer when Mikey Mitchell, riding the Fisher wave, took a commanding lead. What, seven, eight, nine winners ahead and riding with confidence and clarity? Then Jack Doyle woke up and started banging out winners like John Prine’s father hammered planks. Now, it’s a race. Doyle has won 20 races from 90 rides. Mitchell has won 19 of 81. With five races at Callaway Gardens this weekend and another five or so at Charleston in eight days.
They’ll tell you they’re not thinking about it. They’ll tell you they’re taking it race-by-race, day-by-day. Sure, that’s what they’ll tell you. And they’ll tell themselves. But it’s the only thing that matters to two professionals wishing for a title for all the reasons. Justification. Satisfaction. Accomplishment. As the curtain begins to pull across the stage, they know where each other is in each race, they ride cleanly, that won’t change, but they’ll be watching each other’s moves like cops watch street corners.
Each is deserving of his first title.
British-born Mitchell (photo by Tod Marks) traveled the world, Australia, New Zealand before rolling into America. It was a slow burn here, as he rode seven races in 2014 and another two in 2015. Winless and wondering over those two seasons – more of a vacation than a vocation – Mitchell picked up opportunities in 2017, winning nine races and another 12 in 2018, including back-to-back Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga for Arch Kingsley and Ricky Hendriks. With momentum, Mitchell decided to stake his tent here, gradually moving up the ladder before landing the Fisher job over the winter. Likeable and professional, he rides a jump race like a flat jockey, low and tight at the finish.
Irish-born Doyle came here to ride a few in the summer of 2014. He won two, including the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick with Makari. Seeing what may come, he picked up business, including the Iroquois with Demonstrative in 2015. First call for Elizabeth Voss came easy. They’ve enjoyed a lucrative partnership, Doyle as loyal as an old dog until this summer when he began picking outside spares over some of Voss’ horses, mining winners from different quarries. Yeah, that’s not easy and that’s how important it is to him. Doyle is older, too tall, has mileage on the clock, he finished second – by one – last year. In 2016, he was way in front in September only to get hurt at Belmont and miss the rest of the season. On paper, he won’t have as many chances as Mitchell to garner his first championship – though last weekend's double will serve him well. A job at home at his dad’s young-horse yard is on the docket, a championship to show for his travels, his travails, would fit just fine.
As for Callaway, they’re both loaded.
Race 1. Mitchell rides veteran hurdler and timber neophyte Other Cheek, who provided a winner for Mitchell this spring. The 8-year-old has talent, should stay 3 miles, surely jumps well enough as Fisher tries to file the same manuscript as he did last year with Hanno, in 2017 with Dye Fore and 2016 with Sharp Numbers. Doyle takes the call on Mercoeur, a horse he’s ridden six times this year, picking up a smooth win at Shawan Downs but a couple of seconds could gnaw at him in the end. Advantage: Doyle.
Race 2. Mitchell rides Shark Du Berlais for Fisher. The 5-year-old sports a couple of strong running lines from France and a decent fourth in his American debut last spring but his return was weak at International Gold Cup. Doyle gets acquainted with Alsinaafy for Leslie Young. The first-time starter is bred for it and has a training flat race under his belt. Advantage: Mitchell.
Race 3. Whew, decisions, decisions. Doyle was named on a couple but picks favorite Emerald Rocket, a strong second in the 4-year-old stakes at Far Hills for Leslie Young. Looks like an easy choice but that frees up You’re No Better, third at International Gold Cup. Mitchell takes that call in a competitive maiden hurdle. Advantage: Doyle.
Race 4. Doyle was named on three but picks City Dreamer, a novice stakes winner at Iroquois but disappointing since. Doyle rides for the first time, his long hold and light touch might help. Mitchell sticks with Fisher’s Storm Team who could put his front-running ability to good use over the hills and turns of Callaway. On pure form, Storm Team dusted City Dreamer at Far Hills but the former is at the end of a long season that includes five races over hurdles and two on the flat. Advantage: Mitchell.
Race 5. Zanzi Win contributed to Doyle’s torrid fall season with an upset win of the 4-year-old stakes at Far Hills. The duo, together for the first time at Far Hills, defend that crown against several who finished behind them at Far Hills. One of those was Our Legend, seventh that day. Mitchell returns on the Irish-bred who provided a win at Fair Hill, the only time they have been together. Advantage: Doyle.
Good luck, boys. We’re rooting for a tie.