Based on the last few days of 2020, there appears to be a lot to look forward to in 2021. Just prior to Christmas the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was part of a massive omnibus bill passed by both houses of Congress and was signed into law Dec. 27. The day after Christmas, opening day which traditionally ushers in the new year at Santa Anita, announced record handle of more than $23 million.
Even as we plow full steam ahead into January, we can’t help but take a sneak peek over our shoulder as a pair of long-running employees punched the clock for the last time at BloodHorse. Retiring as of the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve are Shirley Dievert, who served in many capacities at BloodHorse for nearly 40 years, most successfully selling advertisements; and sales editor Ron Mitchell, who has worked in racing as a journalist at Thoroughbred Record, Bloodstock Research, and Thoroughbred Times before coming to BloodHorse in 1991.
Even though Mitchell didn’t know a sire from a dam in 1976, Thoroughbred Record editor Dan Farley saw something in him and offered him a position in the research department. Mitchell later worked for Dick Broadbent’s Bloodstock Research Information Systems and was in on the ground floor of the electronic/data business.
“Dick Broadbent...he was a larger-than-life character,” Mitchell recalled. “He tried to thumb his nose at the blue bloods in the industry. His concept behind starting BRIS was to compete and have more of an ‘everyman’s’ alternative to The Jockey Club, which already had its own database. His motivation for starting Thoroughbred Times was to show an alternative to what he thought was the inadequate depth of coverage in The Blood-Horse.”
Mitchell left the industry to hone his skills as a reporter for the Bowling Green Daily News, then returned in the early 1980s to do research and write contracts for the late Thoroughbred-based bloodstock agent Dick Lossen. He later became one of the original staff members of Thoroughbred Times.
Mitchell continued to ride the wave of innovation at BloodHorse as he was the first managing editor of BloodHorse Interactive in 1995 (now BloodHorse.com).
“With my journalism background and thriving on the immediacy of getting news out there…that was right up my alley,” he said. “In those days we wrote stories and posted them at noon and at the end of the day. It wasn’t long before other people started it, too; but we were the first.”
Mitchell’s latest role, covering the colorful world of Thoroughbred auctions, has left an indelible mark.
“The people I’m most impressed with in the industry are those who breed and sell horses, and those who buy and sell horses,” he said. “They are gambling every year with the whims of Mother Nature and the whims of the market. ”
Mitchell also has a trio of horses that stick with him.
“Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and American Pharoah,” Mitchell quickly said. “Those three were able to bring horse racing to the general public in a huge way that harkened back to the days of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. For a modern generation, they brought mainstream America into the realm of horse racing.
“Smarty Jones had ‘Smarty Mania’ and a huge following. One of the most unforgettable days was at Belmont Park when he was storming down the stretch in his attempt to win the Triple Crown. That place was rocking…and when he got passed, the
eeriness of the silence was incredible.
“Afleet Alex had Alex’s Lemonade Stand and that got a lot of kids interested in racing. It was a good charitable cause. American Pharoah was interesting in how his connections let the public get close to the horse. He was such a valuable horse, but they gave people access. When he won the Triple Crown, the roar of the crowd at Belmont was something you can never forget.”
Mitchell sees the future of the industry as bright, pointing toward the HISA.
“I find as I’m retiring that the horse industry is accomplishing something it has been trying to do for as long as I can remember: to get consistency and uniformity. What has just recently happened took an act of Congress…and it’s transformative. It’s going to level the playing ground for everybody. There won’t be the inconsistencies of the past, and trainers will know what they can or cannot do. The fact it has happened is amazing. That’s huge that this happened.”