Trainer Chantal Mitchell, $5 million and counting

by Melissa Keith

Personal milestones are secondary for Chantal Mitchell. The Waterdown, ON trainer said she was pleasantly surprised to have reached two in a May 13 victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park, when 3-year-old pacing filly Freshen Up (3, 1:52.0s; $114,348) lowered her lifetime mark for driver James MacDonald.

“I guess in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really a huge feat,” Mitchell said. “But for me, it’s interesting, because I went over 300 wins and $5 million the same race.”

It was her partner in work and life who pointed out the achievement.

“Actually Kris [DiCenzo] is the one who said to me, ‘That was 300!’” Mitchell said. “Because you pay attention, but then you don’t win a whole bunch. You come through a dry spell when you don’t win a race, and then you forget about it.”

The win by Freshen Up (Bettors Delight—Fresh Look), owned by Eric Good of Davidsonville, MD and Frank Canzone of Scarsdale, NY, was Mitchell’s 13th training win from 63 starts so far this year. The filly followed up with a show finish in Saturday’s (May 20) $129,500 SBOA divisional final.

Mitchell said she likes developing horses, including those requiring patience to reach their potential.

“We were just picking up a 3-year-old that was injured earlier in the season,” she said. “We’re just bringing him in to start back. He’s a 3-year-old Bettors Delight, owned by Tom Hill. He never did make it. He needed some extra time.”

She learned how to look after racehorses from an early age.

“My dad worked with standardbreds and so I started going to the barn with him in the summertime,” she said. “I worked for Daniel Martin during my summer holidays and on weekends. After high school, I started doing more of it. I ended up, in the summer of 2005, I got my own horse, just a cheap 3-year-old that didn’t make it. I tinkered with her and brought her along, so that’s when I got my trainer’s license, to try to start her. And I just kept going.”

Mitchell has since built a strong resume at Woodbine Mohawk Park, with some well-known stakes’ performers raising her profile.

“Bettors Wish [p, 4, 1:47.3m; $2,601,233, 2019 Dan Patch 3-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year/2020 Older Pacing Horse of the Year] would be one of my favorites,” she said. “He was just a nice horse to be around and a really nice racehorse. But if you were to look at the horse who’s probably done the most for my career, that would be [2019 O’Brien 2-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the Year] Alicorn [p, 2, 1:50.3s; $561,140]. I would have to say those two would be maybe tied there. They’d be some of my favorites that I’ve gotten to train.”

Her success is reflected in the growth of the stable she operates with DiCenzo.

“It’s just one big team,” Mitchell said. “For the most part, we’ve always had a barn of between 10-15, and just in maybe the last five years, we’ve gone 15 to 20. Altogether, we have 22 in the barn right now… The only older horses are Ario Hanover [p, 3, 1:49.4s; $156,205] and Oney Hall [5, 1:51.0s; $419,116], and now we had an owner send us an Australian import, but he’s been sick, so he hasn’t raced for us yet. The rest are all 2- and 3-year-olds.”

She said the Australian pacer is a 6-year-old who faced obstacles to getting established here.

“His name is Uncle Shank A [p, 6, Q1:50.4m; $120,243],” Mitchell said. “He won 16 of 30 and did pretty well for them down there… He was actually with Linda Toscano when he first came over. She raced him twice and she felt that he would benefit more from the racing style at Mohawk. She suggested the owner [Kevin Harvey of Ingramport, NS] send him here. Then of course, once he got here, the weather was terrible and there’s sickness going around. With him being a little more sensitive, he’s been really sick. I think we’re winning the battle, but it’s been a long one.”

Mitchell and DiCenzo’s trainees are stabled at Classy Lane Training Centre in Puslinch, ON.

“A lot of them are horses that don’t necessarily race, because we train a lot of young horses, so we’re not racing those campaigners that race 35 starts a year,” she said. “We did have Pointomygranson [p, 5, 1:49.4s; $583,978]. He was one of those for the last six years, and we just moved him along to Yonkers to race in claimers. He was a good one. He showed up every Saturday night and won 32 races for us on the circuit here.”

Mitchell said she likes to take it slow with young horses, for owners with the same philosophy.

“Typically, we’re not ready quite as early, at the very beginning,” she said. “It’s just the way we train them; we take our time a little more. We had a few that were on that schedule to be ready early, and then we got hit with the sickness in the barn and missed about two weeks of training… They might be better for it, in the long run.

“We’re never really worried about having them ready for the first stakes race of the season. If they’re ready, great, but we’re not going to push them. You hear a lot of people like, ‘Stakes payments are coming up, we’ve gotta train, we can’t miss this day, we’re on a schedule.’ Look, to me, the horse makes the schedule… When it comes to training them down and getting them there, they tell you when they’re ready. When you push them, it doesn’t usually end well.”

There are currently 14 2-year-olds in training with Mitchell and DiCenzo.

“It’s still early, but we’ve got a few that we like,” she said. “We’ve got a Stag Party filly and a Jimmy Freight gelding going really well. We have a few by first-crop stallions: Bettors Wish; we had a McWicked. They’re interesting because you don’t know what they are. If you train a Bettors Delight, you know their tendencies. They don’t always train great, so one that’s just training average, you don’t really worry about them. You wait until they get behind the gate. Whereas first-crop sires, you don’t know what they are yet, but as of right now, they’ve been in 2:15 and doing it really well, so they’re exciting.”

Building back at the same training center where Mitchell lost all but one horse in a tragic 2016 fire is meaningful every day.

“We moved back into the barn once they rebuilt it, and it’s nice to see the memorial there,” she said. “We have lots of reminders about everything, but it’s business as usual, really.”