Now the Derby in question is Lingfield’s Winter Derby, which takes place on 16 March. The trainer in question is Philip Mitchell, who was granted a trainer’s licence by the British Horseracing Authority on Friday. It’s not the first time he has held one, but he handed in his licence during 2007, after his local council in Epsom decided not to renew the lease he held on Downs House, the stables his family had used for almost 50 years.
Downs House has its own place in racing history, as it was the home of Eclipse, ancestor of around 95% of all thoroughbreds. Mitchell spent four years embroiled in a dispute with Epsom and Ewell in which he sought an extension to his lease and a commitment that Downs House would continue to have a future as a training centre.
After losing that battle, Mitchell relocated last summer to Blowing Stone Stables, three miles north of Lambourn, and has started to pull together a small, select group of horses to train. “I’m looking forward to getting back and we are going to build the yard up to six, eight or ten horses. I don’t really want to have too many more,” he told the Racing Post.
He explained that he wanted to focus on quality horses, decent meetings and he hoped he might find one good enough to run abroad. If Mitchell can find a horse like Running Stag, who became the first Epsom trained horse to win £1 million in prize money back in 2000, he’ll be delighted.
He launches his second time round career with a horse that won a maiden in 2010 and a handicap last March, and whose last six runs have all been at Group 1 level, in the company of Danedream, St Nicholas Abbey, So You Think and Frankel. True, Robin Hood wasn’t expected to win any of those races; he went off at 33/1 or longer in all of them.
Indeed, in those six races, Robin Hood beat only three horses home. But his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, had a different purpose in mind, as he used Robin Hood as a pacemaker for St Nicholas Abbey and So You Think.
Stepping back to Group 3 level for the Blue Square Bet Winter Derby might prove just the thing for Robin Hood, and there would be a delightful serendipity if he did. Mitchell trained the first winner of the race back in 1998 with Running Stag picking up just £35,000 of his million.