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EMERALD DOWNS PREVIEW: Mitchell savors long, successful ride
Gallyn Mitchell can't remember when he didn't want to be a jockey.
Mitchell, 48, said he was just 3 years old when he first told his parents of his intention to ride.
"I'm told I was watching steeple racing when I said, 'That's what I want to do,'" he recalled. "Of course, I meant flat racing."
Now, 45 years and 1,252 wins later, Mitchell – Emerald Downs' winningest jockey – is looking at a possible induction to the 2010 class of the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
"That's something you dream about when you start a career," Mitchell said. "It's just special. It means you've done something right."
For Mitchell, doing something right on the track is a habit he's cultivated for the past 30 seasons, starting with his first ever win on Lady Duchess, Jan. 29, 1981, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
"As a bug boy, I didn't know nothing, of course," he recalled. "It was raining hard. I didn't have any mud clothes, but I didn't feel the rain that day. It was pretty special, the highlight of my life then."
Since then the highlights have come fast and frequently for Mitchell.
Along with the Emerald Downs all-time win record, Mitchell is also the track's all-time earnings leader and twice winner of the Longacres Mile. Last season, fellow jockeys selected Mitchell – the only current jockey to have ridden every season at Emerald Downs – as the winner of the Lindy Award, which recognizes one rider annually for his or her accomplishments and sportsmanship.
Although his past accomplishments are impressive, Mitchell is still looking to the future.
"I'm getting wiser and better experienced," Mitchell said. "I learn something new every day. I believe the day you think you can't learn something is the day you better quit. No matter how long you've been in the game, you can always learn something."
This season, Mitchell said he's excited about the prospects of several of his rides, especially three-year-old colt Couldabenthewhiskey
"I picked him up last year and won two of three on him," Mitchell said. "First time I rode him, I won the (Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association) Lads Stakes. Then I finished third on him on Washington Cup day. And then I won the Gottstein on him. And we won that by about eight."
Back with the Boy
Mitchell said he's also looking forward to teaming up again this season with West Seattle Boy, a 12-year-old gelding and the track's all-time winningest horse.
Regardless of the outcome of this season's hall of fame voting, Mitchell said he's pleased to have been able to ride as long as he has.
"I figured I'd be riding for a few years, I didn't put a number on it or anything," Mitchell said. "I just figured I'd ride as long as my body holds up. People ask me every year, 'how much longer?' My body will tell me. When it says enough is enough, I'll quit."
Although Mitchell said he plans to stay involved at Emerald Downs after his jockey career is over — possibly as a trainer — he's not looking forward to the day he says goodbye to the silks.
"I've always said that will be the hardest thing for me. To say I'm done riding," he said. "Just because I love it so much. It's just a thrill to be out there. And I feel that I'm the lucky one because I have a job I love so much. So many people don't like their job or don't have a job, nowadays.
"Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of hard work out here, but there are those special moments, when you win races," he continued. "It's not a job for me. I'm out there in the outdoors. Myself, I wouldn't be able to stand it if I was in an office somewhere. And I love the animals. It's just something I've always wanted to do."