Mitchell adds to international flavour

Jumps jockey Michael Mitchell will return to New Zealand to ride Gallante in Sunday’s Schweppes Great Northern Hurdle (4150m) at Te Aroha. Photo credit: Trish Dunell

Northern Champion jumps jockey Michael Mitchell has answered an SOS call from the other side of the world to take the ride on Gallante in Sunday’s Schweppes Great Northern Hurdle (4150m) at Te Aroha.

Mitchell, 27, hasn’t ridden in New Zealand for nearly two years, instead plying his trade around the globe, and the presence of the Englishman, who will fly in from the United States to ride a French and Australian Group 1-winning flat galloper in the jumps feature, adds a real international flavour to the race.

Only last month, Mitchell guided Show Court to success in the G1 AP Smithwick Memorial (3300m) at Saratoga in the US, his second straight win in the race after securing his first American Grade One win on Swansea Mile 12 months earlier.

Mitchell’s booking for impressive last-start Te Aroha maiden hurdle winner Gallante came through Michelle Northcott, who has remained in regular contact with the jumps rider since he left New Zealand.

“Aaron Kuru loves this horse and has done a great job with him but he was booked for one of Paul Nelson’s so Michelle got in contact with Michael and he’s agreed to come,” trainer Graeme Rogerson said.

“He’s world-class now. He’s just won another big one in the United States and he won the jumps premiership and was jumps jockey of the year when he was riding for us. He’s won some big races for us.”

Mitchell’s biggest win in New Zealand was in the 2015 Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) at Riccarton aboard the Brian and Shane Anderton-trained High Forty, one of 22 races he won during the course of that winter.

Prepared by Rogerson, his wife Debbie and granddaughter Bailey, Gallante will be Mitchell’s sixth ride in the Great Northern Hurdle, a race he came closest to winning when second aboard Raisafuasho at Ellerslie in 2016.

“We think he’s flying,” Rogerson said of the dual Group 1-winning galloper.

“He’s a tough horse. He doesn’t like being hit with the stick but he’s been going to Ann Browne’s and Ann said to me he’s a natural. But he can put in a short one and a long one.

“He works up Brownes’ hill like a trooper. He pulls all the way up and he’s still pulling at the top too. The jumping has turned him around mentally.”

Gallante’s 16 3/4-length maiden hurdle triumph at Te Aroha last month was his first win since the 2016 Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick.

Mitchell will also ride the Peter and Jessica Brosnan-trained Old Countess in the Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) at Te Aroha and Wilijonmcbride and Suffice To Say on the undercard.