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BC Mile Contender Obviously Helping to Heal Mitchell Clan

In the quiet of those last few mornings, Mike Mitchell still came to the barn. He walked the shedrow managed by his assistant and somehow often found himself at a solid bay's stall. That horse, he would later tell his son-in-law, "Gave me so much joy in the midst of so much darkness." Waging a prolonged battle against brain cancer, the trainer held on to the things he knew best—his family and his Thoroughbreds.

"Sometimes he'd come to the barn as if he were thinking, 'I'll just train one horse today,' because that's all he could take," recalled Mitchell's older daughter, McCall Rounsefell. "And Obviously was always the one."

When the gates spring open for the Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland, that same runner will go galloping out to the early lead. It will be his fourth Breeders' Cup but his first without his old trainer, who passed away April 14. Still, through this horse and his owners, and through the young conditioner who has taken over his regimen—and most of all, through the tight-knit family who will be cheeringObviously home—Mike Mitchell's legacy lives on.

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At 5:46 p.m. Sept. 13, Obviously was off and running in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-IT). The course was damp with weekend rains and softer than the California ground he was accustomed to, but the speedy runner was racing for the first time since last November and doing it the way he loves—breaking like a shot, ears pricked, striding along to the front of the field.

More than 590 miles away in Louisville, Denise Mitchell watched her late husband's charge with their younger daughter, then "a very pregnant Shea." Married to jockey Julien Leparoux, on Sept. 21 Shea delivered a baby boy, Mitchell Robert, named after his late grandfathers.

"Obviously is a special horse to our family for so many reasons; there have been so many exciting wins that we shared together," Denise Mitchell said. "Mike had a special love for this horse, and he was a great distraction during Mike's illness, and Phil (D'Amato) has gone on to do a wonderful job of training him."

Farther south in a popular Lexington restaurant, Craig "Boomer" Rounsefell and his wife, McCall, were glued to the television as the 7-year-old war horse led the field under jockey Joe Talamo. This was more than Obviously's season debut; he was making his first start since Mitchell's death.

The California-based trainer had sent Boomer, his then-assistant D'Amato, and bloodstock agent Jamie Lloyd to Tattersalls in 2011 to pick out a European-type for owners Joe Scardino and Anthony Fanticola. And it was 130,000 guineas purchase Obviously—now a seven-time graded stakes winner, two of them grade I races—who took D'Amato to the next level and became the poster child for Boomer's bloodstock business.

"You need a horse like Obviously early to give you that kick," Boomer said. "People take a little bit more notice. It's something to hang your hat on, really."

Together, Boomer and McCall run Boomer Bloodstock International, an Australian operation that buys horses all over the world. On the day they watched Obviously in the Woodbine Mile, they were also in Kentucky to scout purchases for clients at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

"I usually plan my year out 12 months in advance, and this year my Australian business has been growing strongly," Boomer said. "I've mostly focused on the European side to this point, but they're getting harder to buy in that market. So this year I set out that I was going to really work the (American) sales.

"All through Del Mar I spoke to a lot clients and various trainers. I'm doing short-lists for them and working with them and hopefully we'll get some horses out of it so I've got some runners on the ground, and we can continue to build the American part of the business."

Del Mar's summer meet was difficult for McCall, who was flooded with memories of her late father at the seaside oval where the family spent so much time together.

"Del Mar was brutal," McCall said. "Nobody loved that place more than my father. I survived Del Mar. I feel close to him when I'm around it, but I was like, 'I don't know if I can handle things being so different.' And Boomer kept saying, 'He'd want you to; just give it time.' "

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Obviously finished third in the Woodbine Mile, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths as European invader Mondialiste darted up for the win and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Lea closed to be second. The good run sets him up for his fourth straight start in the Breeders' Cup Mile, a race in which he finished third behind Wise Dan andAnimal Kingdom   in 2012, fifth in 2013, and fifth again last year.

"I thought that might have been one of his better races," Talamo said of Obviously's Woodbine Mile run. "Not only coming off the layup, but that turf was so soft and he's accustomed to hearing his feet rattle. It's a lot firmer in California. I thought he ran dynamite."

This will be the second Breeders' Cup as a trainer for D'Amato, who worked as Mitchell's assistant for 10 years. After his mentor underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in June 2012, D'Amato filled in, running the barn but allowing Mitchell to shut the door with dignity on a 2,690-win career. Mitchell retired for good in April 2014, although he still went to the races and to Clockers' Corner at Santa Anita. The older trainer never won a Breeders' Cup race, but Obviously won the 2013 Shoemaker Mile Stakes (gr. IT) under his name, then went on to give D'Amato his first grade I win as a conditioner with a 2014 repeat.

"He's very special because it was the first time Mike sent us to Newmarket to purchase a nice European horse; this was our first venture, when we got Obviously four years ago," D'Amato said. "He had a couple of grade I wins for Mike and myself, and he was very special to Mike. Now hopefully we'll carry on the torch."

"Phil is a smart young guy who worked with Mike Mitchell for years, and it rubbed off really well," Tony Fanticola said. "He's basically a young Mike Mitchell; he cares about his horses.

"I've been fortunate to be a partner for 17 years with Joe Scardino, and it's been a great run--a lot of fun and very exciting. We've got a pretty good record because we place our horses right and we have a lot of confidence in our trainer. We have a heck of a team—Phil trains the horses, and Boomer helps find them."

D'Amato and Boomer still buy horses together—Fanticola and Scardino have six of them currently, all with D'Amato—and all of Boomer's U.S. bloodstock clients are based on the West Coast.

"When I first got going, I wanted to be someone a client could look to that had a grasp on the whole worldwide market," Boomer explained. "I was fortunate to spend time, prior to setting up my agency, in various countries working for trainers, for farms, getting a good grasp of those industries before I put on the bloodstock agent cap.

"But starting back then, Mike gave me a shot here in America with his clients, and they believed in me, and we consistently got good results. Some of my biggest supporters have been the owners of Obviously; we've done well with the horses we've had."

Those runners include grade II winner Fanticola and retired grade II winner Potesta, but their superstar is still Obviously, who has an 11-4-3 record from 23 starts for earnings of $1,487,751.

"It's such an exciting time when you get a horse to that level," Shea said. "To have Phil, who was like a son to dad, now pick up his string, has been such a great transition for us. We still feel like we're a part of it. And Obviously's owners seem like family to us too. They know what this horse means. Win, lose, or draw, he's already done so much for us. Every time he runs, we just want him to come home safe."

Obviously is the course record-holder at Del Mar, where he sparkled eight furlongs in 1:32.10 when winning the 2012 Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT).

"I've never ridden a horse with that much speed that can go so far," remarked Talamo, who has ridden the bay son of Australian stallion Choisir in the past 17 of his 20 U.S. starts. "He's put up some :44 and change fractions where normally a horse would get beat 20 lengths after that, and he'll just keep quickening."

Talamo added, "When I think of Obviously, I can't help but think of Mike. He really loved Obviously from the start. He ran him a few times sprinting, and then when he stretched him out, that's when he really started to shine. Mike was not only an unbelievable trainer but an unbelievable guy."

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As he gets older, Obviously has been raced lightly by his connections, and is always rested over the winter. That's why he's coming into the Breeders' Cup off just the Woodbine Mile start this year, ready to rumble with a solid prep under his belt.

"He runs very well fresh," D'Amato said. "He gives you everything he's got every time he runs, so after five or six races or so, we always give him time off. He's doing super right now."

Talamo believes that program helps Obviously maintain his career at the highest level.

"He's a horse that almost gets better with age," the jockey said. "He's a natural warrior; he runs year after year just as hard as he can. It's a testament to the way they've trained him and spread out his races, and the way they turn him out like that. He comes back stronger and stronger. He has such a big heart. I just love how he tries."

Obviously faces a deep field for the Mile, with Mondialiste coming,Tepin ready to tackle the boys after a seven-length romp in the First Lady Stakes (gr. IT), last year's Mile winner Karakontie   ready to mount a defense, and Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IT) victor Grand Arch in the mix along with Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard Jacques le Marois (Fr-I)-winning mare Esoterique. But his connections know the brilliant bay with the heart of gold will lay it all on the line as he returns for his remarkable fourth attempt. In a first Breeders' Cup without Mitchell, the foundation the late trainer established with Obviously remains strong.

"We'd love to win it for Mike," Fanticola said. "He was a great trainer and also a good friend. His whole family is wonderful. Mike may not be with us in person, but he'll be there at the races in spirit at least; I know that for sure."

-from www.bloodhorse.com

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