Contact: Alicia Hughes, NTRA Communications, (859) 422-2663, firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the most valuable skills trainer Steve Asmussen has perfected throughout his Hall of Fame career is the art of bringing exceptional talent to the surface and then wisely getting out of its way.
In his first two starts of 2019, it became clear that the raw ability Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt’s Mitole had always possessed was become more refined and dangerous. With such brilliance threatening to bubble over, Asmussen knew the best thing he could do for the bay horse was give him a campaign ambitious enough to showcase every aspect of his exceptional talent.
“When the responsibility of a horse like Mitole comes along, I think we try to prove, get everything out of their path and allow them to be who they are,” Asmussen said.
With six victories, four Grade 1 wins, and a Breeders’ Cup triumph on his resume this past year, Mitole managed to elevate himself to the top of a sprint male division widely considered one of the pound-for-pound best in all of racing. The son of Eskendereya now has a chance to put himself in the same breath with the best Asmussen has ever conditioned as he is among the three finalists for Horse of the Year honors at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards to be held on January 23.
Asmussen already has four Horse of the Year titles to his credit, having trained Curlin to back-to-back golden trophies in 2007-08, honing the legendary Rachel Alexandra during her historic campaign in 2009, and getting Gun Runner to the top of the heap in 2017. Comparing his charges is rarely a road Asmussen ever likes to venture down, but declaring Mitole one of the more rare specimens he has had in his care has simply become a statement of fact.
After winning the Chick Lang Stakes in May 2018 – his third straight victory during his 3-year-old season – Mitole suffered a splint injury that kept him sidelined until March 2019 when he resurfaced in an allowance optional claiming test at Oaklawn Park. The time off took nothing off his speed as he romped by 4 ¼ lengths that day and, when he followed that up by wiring the field in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in April, finding the colt’s ceiling became Asmussen’s challenge.
Taking out a top-flight bunch in Grade 1 Churchill Downs Sprint going seven furlongs was a sublime feat, but even that visually impressive outing would pale compared to what Mitole pulled off in his subsequent start. In the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on June 8, he was not only trying the eight-furlong distance for the first time, but facing the likes of multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie and two-time Dubai World Cup hero Thunder Snow (IRE). Neither the added ground nor the class of his foes proved an obstacle for Mitole’s high-cruising self as he carried a jubilant Ricardo Santana Jr. to a three-quarter length victory.
“He can come (from the) back, he can go in front, you can put him between horses and he always keeps trying his best,” Santana said after the Met Mile. “He’s a really amazing horse.”
Mitole’s lone blemish on the year would come when he ran into fellow buzzsaw Imperial Hint in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in July. That bump in the road would prove just that, however, as Mitole went back to leaving foes toiling in his wake during his victory in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes and his 1 ¼-length coronation in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“It’s what he’s capable of,” Asmussen said after the Breeders’ Cup. “And I think that people that know, for him to get to the Met Mile and perform the way that he did against that field on that stage, stretched out, and then for him within a matter of months to retrack, to reset, to be the fastest horse in the world over three-quarters of a mile — good luck anybody trying it. It’s out there. Go prove it.”
Bred in Kentucky by Edward Cox Jr., out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, Mitole will stand his first season at Spendthrift Farm in 2020. He retired with ten wins from 14 career starts and $3,104,910 in earnings.