Retired trainer and jockey Mitch Shirota, whose training career spanned more than three decades and included a memorable Kentucky Derby Day stakes win at Churchill Downs, died Jan. 4 at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville after a lengthy illness. He was 78.
Visitation and a memorial service are tentatively scheduled for Christ Chapel in the Churchill Downs stable area Jan. 7. Current plans call for visitation in the chapel from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (all times Eastern), with the service set to follow at 2 p.m.
According to Equibase statistics, which have been compiled since 1976, Shirota saddled 236 winners from 1,637 career starters, and his horses collected career earnings of $5,692,466. He won 79 races from 676 starts at Churchill Downs with earnings at his home track of $2,065,573.
His years as a trainer were preceded by a 15-year run as a jockey that began in 1958 at Agua Caliente in Mexico. Shirota later rode at Churchill, Miles Park, and other Kentucky tracks in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Shirota moved to the United States in the mid 1950s to attend Brigham Young University, where he graduated in three years with a degree in political science. He became involved with Thoroughbreds when he worked at a California farm.
One of Shirota’s highlights came when one of his charges, the filly Shaconage, won the Argent Mortgage Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the 2004 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) undercard. The win was Shirota's first in a stakes at Churchill Downs.
Shaconage provided Shirota with his only start in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, where she ran sixth in the 2004 VO5 Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I) at Lone Star Park.
Shirota also saddled the Firm Stance to win the 1992 Top Flight Handicap (gr. I) in New York.
Shirota’s survivors include his wife, Lynda, and their daughter, Lori.