Three Chimneys Presents Good News Friday: All About Heart - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Three Chimneys Presents Good News Friday: All About Heart

Gallyn Mitchell has been on a streak of bad luck lately.

It started in 2012 when he had a thumb snapped off by a horse's hoof in a gate accident. He recovered, but wasn't back in the saddle long before he had a spill that left him with two spinal fractures and a broken ankle. He recuperated in time for the opening of the Emerald Downs meet in April of this year.

After working a few horses in the morning, Mitchell went home to wife and agent Denise and 20 minutes later, he started feeling terrible.

“I went outside. I thought I just needed a little fresh air. Every breath just kept getting shorter and I knew something wasn't right,” said Mitchell.

It was a heart attack.

Doctors concluded that Mitchell had blockages of between 80 and 100 percent in three of the valves in his heart. Although he remained conscious the whole time, paramedics told the jockey that his bloodflow was so poor that their machinery kept losing track of his pulse in the ambulance. He was told that he shouldn't have survived the ride to the hospital.

Despite having had two surgeries to address the blockages, Mitchell, 51, was only interested in one thing—when he could get back in the saddle.

“After the doctor released me, I couldn't wait to get back on horses. I think it was the next day I went back to the track [in the morning],” he recalled. “It's just something I love to do. It's about all I've known. It gets in your blood. It's an adrenaline thing.

“The hardest part [about being out] was watching all my horses win.”

On September 27, just five months and five days after suffering the heart attack, Mitchell's luck finally seemed to turn around—he made it back to the saddle again.

No one, including Mitchell, knows how he had continued to compete without symptoms of such serious bloodflow difficulties. What he does know is that after the surgeries and a careful return to racing form, he feels better now than ever.

He notched a victory on claimer Chaching Pete on Emerald's closing weekend. With the win, he distinguished himself as the only jockey to win a race during all 18 seasons of Emerald Downs' history.

Mitchell speaks to television cameras about his return to riding
Mitchell speaks to television cameras about his return to riding

The Colorado native started off in the saddle of rodeo horses and later found a talent for raceriding. He has won multiple graded stakes riding on the west coast circuit. When he's not in the starting gates, he works as a stunt rider, and has had appearances in “Seabiscuit,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Little Big Man,” and the HBO series “Luck.” He was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in August, was a finalist for the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2010 and 2011, and was voted the winner of the 2011 Lindy Award for accomplishment and sportsmanship.

Although he made relatively few starts in 2013, he will finish the year with a win percentage of about 17.3 percent.

Despite his accomplishments and his injuries, Mitchell said he isn't done yet—but he knows the day will come, probably just a few years down the road, that he will have to hang up his tack.

He admits that his wife wasn't pleased that he wanted to return to the starting gates, but the way he sees it, life is full of inherent risk.

“In my career, I really have nothing left to prove,” he said. “I have a second chance, and I'm so thankful of that. The doctor said I shouldn't even be alive. To still be here, with no body damage—I have a second chance to do what I love to do.”

He's taking his second chance seriously, and says that the experience has given him a new perspective on what's most important in life.

“The little things mean nothing to me no more,'” he said. “I have my family, I have my health. That's number one. If I get to ride, that's a bonus.”

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