“I was feeling a bit better by Tuesday,” admits Guy Mitchell, reflecting on the Sunday night celebrations that followed his earlier success at Goodwood. The overindulgence was well earned, a party 30 years in the making, to mark the moment he became the first jockey with only one eye to ride a winner in Britain.
Mitchell persuaded the authorities last year that he could do the job as safely as anyone else. At 48 years of age, he is content to remain an amateur but perhaps he has opened a door for someone else who would otherwise have been lost to racing.
A son of Philip, who trained the popular globetrotter Running Stag, Mitchell was riding from an early age and naturally expected to be a jockey. But he had lost his right eye at the age of five, following two years of treatment including radiotherapy and chemotherapy to deal with a tumour found behind it.
“It pushed the eye forward. One day, I was watching TV and Mum, who was standing to one side, noticed it. The next thing we were up in Great Ormond Street having all sorts of tests.
“The eye became very, very light-sensitive, had a problem with glaucoma, kept getting infections and in the end it caused far more problems than it was worth, so they removed it. Of course, it’s difficult. But growing up, we were very ‘can do’ and get on with things. I was being thrust into riding ponies and having a normal life.
“I had a patch for a bit and then we had this wonderful lady in Harley Street who created false eyes, a shell that would fit into my socket. It wasn’t terribly good, it was quite starey and scarey because it didn’t move, it didn’t have any muscle attachments. It was a bit of a party trick, I’d go round someone’s birthday party and pop it out, there’d just be the socket and all the girls would run off screaming.”
Mitchell adapted to his loss. He continued to ride and play rugby. But the Jockey Club, which ran racing at the time, twice turned him down for a jockey’s licence when he was a teenager.
“They never wrote a formal letter to say why. It was always a verbal thing, along the lines of ‘We’d be worried about you getting kickback in your eye.’”
Mitchell gave up and moved on. There was little time for racing while he was toiling away as a junior doctor. But somehow he ended up being based at a GP’s surgery in Pulborough, half a mile from Amanda Perrett’s yard, where he now rides out. And over the years he took on work as a racecourse medic, initially at Ascot and then also at Windsor and Goodwood.
Eventually, he had another go at applying for a licence and was delighted to find a new openness to the idea. His ability to ride safely was thoroughly tested but in the end he was approved.
A big gang of his friends showed their support in a way he did not expect. “They got drunk at Lord’s together and the next thing, I got a WhatsApp saying: ‘We’re buying a racehorse’.” This turned out to be The Game Is On, who defied odds of 50-1 on Sunday, carrying Mitchell in silks designed to echo the egg and bacon colours of the MCC.
“It would have been nice to have them all at Goodwood but it doesn’t really get much better than that,” Mitchell says. “My wife and sister were there. Mum and Dad were both over the moon.” The Game Is On is trained by Simon Dow, who had been best man at his wedding.
Mitchell’s next target is Epsom’s Amateur Derby, a race his father won several times. But his main focus is on proving that the authorities have made the right decision.
“I take as much care for the safety of my fellow jockeys as I do for myself. I’m always mindful, particularly if I’m drawn wide and I have people inside of me, that I’m giving them the space they need.
“If you look at the replay of my Kempton ride, very often I’m looking over my right shoulder or under my right armpit just to check what’s what. I think it’s very important for me to be even more diligent because I definitely don’t want to have my licence revoked.”