Michael Mitchell had the 2019 jockey championship at his mercy after his compatriot Jack Doyle sustained a season-ending injury in the last race and at the last fence of the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens on Nov. 9.
Mitchell only had to make a few calls, or take a few calls, and get on the favorites at the season-ending Steeplechase at Charleston at Stono Ferry on Sunday. He certainly would have had a full dance card, and one win in five jump races would have given him the championship over Doyle, who is recovering from a fractured jaw sustained in an allowance hurdle for four-year-olds.
One race earlier, Mitchell had climbed into a tie with Doyle for year-end honors with his victory aboard Storm Team in the Aflac Supreme Hurdle. The English-born jockey, who was New Zealand’s champion jockey four years ago, had every chance of occupying the line as 2019’s champion jockey in the National Steeplechase annals.
Instead, the 2019 jockey title will contain two lines, one for Mitchell and one for Doyle, after Mitchell declined to take any mounts at Charleston. In a magnanimous action, Mitchell refused to take advantage of Doyle’s misfortune. Thus, the title ends in a tie, with each jockey having 20 victories.
Mitchell’s action was widely hailed, and especially by Doyle, who reported on Facebook that he will have his jaw wired shut for four to six weeks after undergoing surgery at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Goes to show what an unbelievably classy guy he is!” Doyle wrote in his posting.
The Racing Post, in reporting Mitchell’s decision, likened it to John Francome’s decision to end the 1982 National Hunt season tied with Peter Scudamore, who had been injured in April while leading for the championship. Francome pulled into a tie and hen declined the rest of his starts for the season.
Mitchell and Doyle had been locked in a seesaw battle for the title from the start of the year. Doyle started the year well, but Mitchell caught fire in late April and led the standings by six wins, 15 to Doyle’s nine, after the Fair Hill meet at the end of May. Mitchell went cold over the summer, and Doyle made steady progress into the early fall.
Doyle took the lead with a win at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, and Mitchell drew even with the Aflac Supreme Hurdle win. Mitchell led the year’s purse-earnings standings, with $733,550 to Doyle’s $597,250. Mitchell’s 2019 purses haul is the fourth-largest ever. Leading that list is Gus Brown’s $815,897 in 2001.
The trainer title, both by wins and earnings, was not close at all. Jack Fisher, who also sat out the Charleston meet, ended the year with 37 victories, the highest total since Jonathan Sheppard had the same number in 1994. Sheppard has the highest total in American Steeplechasing’s modern era, 39, in 1988.
Fisher, who started the year impressively and maintained a winning pace throughout the year, shattered his record for purse earnings at the Far Hills meet and ended the year with $1,590,500. He had established the record in 2017 with $1,321,150 and smashed that mark by a more than a quarter-million dollars this year.
Finishing second by both wins and earnings was Sheppard, who had 20 wins and purses of $690,500.
For the second time in three years, Bruton Street-US ruled as the champion owner with $614,500. The partnership of Michael Hankin, Charles C. Fenwick Jr., and Charles Noell raced Scorpiancer, the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) winner who was third on the earnings table, and Snap Decision, the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle winner who was fourth on the list.
Leading the earnings table was Brain Power, the Grand National (Gr. 1) winner in his only U.S. start, and Winston C, who won Saratoga Race Course’s Grade 1 races, the A. P. Smithwick and New York Turf Writers Cup, for Hudson River Farms and trainer Sheppard.