Tributes for

Mitchell, Mike

Mike Mitchell spent his life trying to make horses run as fast as possible. A highly competitive trainer, he won 21 overall titles at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita Park and Del Mar race tracks, beginning with his first race win at Bay Meadows Racetrack in 1974.

“But he was probably the slowest walker you have ever seen in your life,” longtime jockey agent Scotty McClellan remembered. “I could never walk with him because I had to walk faster.”

Mitchell, who also was remembered as a generous person and practical joker with an infectious laugh, died Tuesday at his home in Monrovia. He was 66.

“He was a great family man” and devoted Christian, his wife, Denise, said Wednesday. “We always said, ‘you’re a great horse trainer, but you’re an even better father and husband.’”

In addition to his wife, Mitchell is survived by daughters McCall Rounsefell and Shea Leparoux, a twin sister, Cheryl, and brothers Earl Jr., Guy and Casey. A public memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Santa Anita Park, 285 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia.

“He did love his horses and he had such a passion for training them and being with them,” Rounsefell said. “But he always had a way of being with us as a family and making that such an important part of his life.”

The son of trainer Earl Mitchell, Mike Mitchell was born April 25, 1948, in Bakersfield. He worked for trainers Farrell Jones and Willard Proctor before getting his first trainer’s license in 1974 and made his name as a claiming trainer.

“He was very good at finding a diamond in the rough,” McClellan said. “If he saw a horse he wanted to claim, he already had in his mind what he wanted to do with that horse.”

He was Santa Anita’s fifth all-time leading trainer with 659 wins; Del Mar’s all-time leading trainer with 476 wins and seven titles from 1981 through 2011; and was a leading trainer at Fairplex Park in 2008. He also developed stakes winners, including Kela, which earned his first Grade I win in 2004 at Del Mar, and Irish-bred Obviously’s five graded stakes wins in 2012 and 2013.

Mitchell also worked well with the jockeys and was “a lot of fun to be around,” Laffit Pincay Jr. said.

“Mike was one of the best trainers I ever rode for,” said Pincay, one of horseracing’s most successful jockeys. “He actually never told me how to ride his horses, he just put me on a horse and said, ‘good luck.’”

Mitchell retired April 21, 2014, two years after his diagnosis of brain cancer, giving his stable to longtime assistant Phil D’Amato.

“Horseracing is very competitive,” daughter Leparoux said. “But when anyone’s down or we lose a loved one, it’s a family and people do come together. There’s a huge support and we can feel that.”