Back In The Saddle
Alison Stanton | Jan 1, 2014, midnight
Mitchell received two stents in his arteries, and several months later he had a third stent placed into an artery that was 80 percent blocked. He had to change his diet significantly, he says, and he resolved to let time and his new medications do their work to heal him.
“My health and my family come first, so I knew I had to take time off to recover, but I had been racing on some pretty nice horses, so it was really tough to just sit and watch them run at competitions.”
Although he did what he could to keep his spirits up and often reminded himself that he would eventually race again, Mitchell says he especially missed the atmosphere and camaraderie at the jockey’s clubhouse.
This fall, shortly after his surgery for his third stent, Mitchell says he started getting back on horses. He was determined to get fit again and get back to what he loves doing most.
“People asked me if I was ready then to compete, and I told him I wasn’t quite ready yet, but that my body would let me know.”
When he finally felt in shape enough to handle the rigors of horse racing, Mitchell competed at Emerald Downs near Seattle, where he won his first race after coming back.
“That really meant a lot to me. I had won all kinds of races during my career, but winning that one race was really special.”
Now fully recovered from his two medical setbacks, Mitchell says he is feeling “way better” than before.
“I feel at least 10 years younger, and I’m much better now that I have all of my stents.”
Bucky Huff, a horsemen’s bookkeeper at Turf Paradise, has known Mitchell for about 15 years. Although she says he can get more out of a horse in terms of finesse than many other jockeys she knows, when she learned he had broken his back and then suffered a heart attack, she figured he would retire.
When she saw him for the first time at Turf Paradise after recovering from his heart attack, Huff recalls asking Mitchell what he was doing.
“He said ‘I’m fit as a fiddle and ready to go,’” Huff says. “It’s pretty amazing that he could come back after all of that. I’m so glad to see him back. He and his wife are both great people and hard, hard workers.”
Vincent Francia, general manager at Turf Paradise, says as a jockey, Mitchell is a very smart rider.
“What Gallyn brings to riding is not only his many years of experience, but also wisdom,” Francia says, adding that he has often observed him talking to other jockeys, advising them on how to avoid pitfalls or mistakes.
When he learned that Mitchell was returning to racing, Francia says he was more delighted than amazed.
“I was very happy to hear it, but knowing what I do about him, I was not surprised.”
Mitchell says he knows and accepts that his racing days are coming to a close sooner rather than later. But until that day comes, he will continue to do what he enjoys.
“I’m at the end of my career—I know that. But I’ll just push it a little more, and my body will let me know when it’s time,” he says. “I just love the competition, and I don’t have anything to prove anymore—for myself, or anyone else. I do it because I love it, and now I have a second chance. The docs said I should be brain dead, so to have another chance to race is wonderful, and I’m so thankful that I can.”