Being at Belmont Park for Alberto VO5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.I) represents a full-circle journey for trainer Tony Mitchell, who brings the undefeated Original Spin into the contest. The 47-year-old native Englishman began his career a few yards away from Barn 19, where Original Spin is bedded down, as an assistant to trainer Tom Skiffington.
Both men came from Steeplechase backgrounds, so when Mitchell was walking the Belmont backstretch looking for work, he was pointed toward Skiffington. Although skeptical, Skiffington gave Mitchell an opportunity when the latter offered to work a week for free if his performance wasn't up to snuff.
"I was planting bushes around his barn," recalled Mitchell. "Then he would have me dig them up and move them a couple of feet over. Tom taught me so much about training, I'm very indebted to him."
Mitchell, who has an invaluable partner around the stable in his wife, Sherri, is based on the Chicago circuit, where he has trained a number of Illinois-bred champions, including that state's horse of the year in 2003, Summer Mis. Also that year, he trained 3-year-old filly Julie's Prize and 2-year-old male Sir Fidgety, both Illinois-bred champions.
Sherri breaks the stable's 2-year-olds in Aiken, S.C., and Belmont holds a special place for the Mitchells for another reason--they met at the historic New York track. The couple now has three children.
Original Spin is undefeated, if lightly raced. She won her maiden in August in a front-running performance over six furlongs, but was clearly tiring in the last part. Mitchell decided the daughter of Distorted Humor
needed to learn to rate and come from behind, so he commenced training her to take some dirt in the face and learn how to come between horses. Mitchell's training job worked to perfection, as Original Spin came back at Arlington Park in September and fired from mid-pack to turn in a head-turning performance in the Arlington Breeders' Cup Lassie (gr. III), drawing off by more than four lengths.
Original Spin will not only have the services of leading Breeders' Cup jockey by wins Jerry Bailey, but may well have the finger of fate in her corner as well. She is owned by the Russell Reineman Stable, which is the family of the Chicago steel magnate who died in 2004. Her breeder, Charles Nuckols Jr., passed away not two months ago. The two men had been friends and business partners in the horse business for 50 years. "I think perhaps they'll give her that extra push the final sixteenth," said Mitchell.
Jen McCutcheon, Reineman's granddaughter, is now the racing manager for the operation, which still includes some 100 horses--25-30 broodmares and a like number of weanlings and horses in training. "We feel so fortunate to be here," she noted. "I know how proud my grandfather and Mr. Nuckols would be of us, and of their breeding operation." Distorted Humor is in fact one of the hottest sires in Kentucky currently. He was bred by Nuckols and named by Reineman for his own offbeat sense of humor. He stands at WinStar Farm outside Versailles.
Original Spin is often mispronounced by people who leave the 'p' out of her name. But for Chicago race fans as well as those who believe the Racing Gods can smile down from above, it will be no sin if Mitchell's charge upsets the Juvenile Fillies field.