IN Racing
Mitchell basking in Group Three thoroughbred glory
Todd Mitchell says the best thing about winning thoroughbred races is that he gets a chance to savour them.
NZ Racing Desk | January 22, 2023
Photo: Trish Dunell

Todd Mitchell says the best thing about winning thoroughbred races is that he gets a chance to savour them.

An outstanding driver and trainer in New Zealand harness racing in the past 30 years, Mitchell has also prepared gallopers for 15 years and scored his first thoroughbred black-type victory when Green Aeon won the Gr.3 Brighthill Farm Yearlings Concorde Handicap (1200m) at Pukekohe on Saturday.

Mitchell has had plenty of success in harness racing. He’s one of 18 drivers to win more than 1,200 races in New Zealand and won the New Zealand Trotting Cup four times as a driver, including two behind Just An Excuse, who was trained by his father Robert.

He is still driving and trains about 15 standardbreds himself, but also has five thoroughbreds in work and says the racedays with thoroughbreds are easier to enjoy.

“When I go to the races with the standardbreds and I’m training and driving, I’m always on the go. I’m rushing around all night, and I never have time to relax,” Mitchell said.

“That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy racedays with the thoroughbreds. I get time to enjoy the day much more.”

Mitchell got into the thoroughbred game partially by accident after he and some colleagues in the harness racing world got into a syndicate to race a galloper.

“We got into a horse called Electronic Socks, and after a few races, Peter Ferguson said to me ‘why don’t you look after it yourself’,” he said.

“I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t know much about thoroughbreds, but I gave it a go and she ended up winning six races, and so did our next horse, Our Pink Diamond.”

Green Aeon arrived with Mitchell last year with no thought of any future as a racehorse. After winning two of his three starts with Bjorn Baker in Sydney in 2019, he was sent to Hong Kong. There he won once from 12 starts without settling in, and his career ended when he pulled a suspensory ligament from his splint bone in late 2021.

He was given time to recover from his injury before his Hong Kong owner Willie Leung sent him to Mitchell and his partner, fellow trainer Catherine Cameron, purely to find him a post-racing home.

“He had about three months down the back of the farm and I said to Catherine that he just had a bit of class to him,” Mitchell said.

“I told her that we should ask Willie if we could race him because he was just such a good-looking horse. So we had him checked out by the vet, and his injury was fully healed, so we thought we’d give him a chance.”

Green Aeon quickly thrived on training, winning a trial and then a Rating 75 sprint at Te Rapa on December 10.

He then finished second in the Listed Hallmark Stud Handicap (1200m) at Pukekohe on Boxing Day prior to Saturday’s success.

“He surprised us a bit, really, but he’s a lovely horse to have around the place. Nothing worries him – he takes everything in his stride, more like a standardbred really,” Mitchell said.

“Willie said that he really rated the horse and that in hindsight the worst thing that they did was send him to Hong Kong. Some horses don’t settle in up there and he didn’t, but he’s a very happy horse here.”

Despite his good start to his New Zealand career, Mitchell went into the Concorde with more hope than expectation.

“We were happy with his draw and hoped that he could finish in the top four. To win the race is surreal.”

Mitchell thought after the Concorde victory that he might set Green Aeon for the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa on February 11 but after discussing it with Cameron he’s changed his mind and will now aim for the Gr.3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on March 4.

“We’ve decided he might benefit from a little break and that the King’s Plate is a better target for him right now. We will keep him to 1200m for now,” he said.

Mitchell is also getting plenty of joy watching his 19-year-old daughter Tayla make her way as a jockey. She won another race at Trentham yesterday, aboard La Bella Nera, and is now sixth on the jockeys’ premiership with 33 wins.

“She began driving harness horses in the kids carts programme but I think she thought they weren’t quick enough for her,” Mitchell said.

“She eventually decided she wanted to ride thoroughbreds and she’s doing a fantastic job.

“It’s great to see her winning races, and just as good to hear top horse people commenting on how well she’s riding. I’m a super proud dad.”

Bjorn Baker Catherine Cameron Electronic Socks Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint Gr.3 Brighthill Farm Yearlings Concorde Handicap Gr.3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate Green Aeon Hong Kong Just An Excuse Listed Hallmark Stud Handicap Harness Racing Our Pink Diamond Peter Ferguson Pukekohe Todd Mitchell Willie Leung