By Ray Hickson
If you don’t know a lot about jockey Mitchell Bell there’s a very good reason – he prefers it that way.
Bell is certainly no stranger to success in the saddle, he’s one of the most prolific riders around country and provincial areas of NSW. But he prefers to let his riding do the talking.
So we’re fortunate the 33-year-old agreed to shedding a bit of light on his racing life.
“I try to avoid the limelight as much as possible,’’ Bell said.
“It’s something I’ve never been into, even on race day I try to avoid interviews. I used to think it was a bit of a jinx but that’s just the way I am.
“I keep a low profile, living out here (in the Hawkesbury) is relaxed and easy going. That’s the person I am.’’
Bell started out as an apprentice with Mark Mason at Tamworth in 2001.
From a young age he wanted to be a jockey, thanks to his grandfather William ‘Billy’ Bell - a name his six-month-old son now owns, and pretty much hit the ground running.
“He passed away when I was a young boy, I always looked up to him and wanted to do what he did,’’ he said.
“Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep light enough and small enough to be able to do it. It’s a boyhood dream.’’
Within a couple of years, he found his way to Sydney and is known as another product of the Ron Quinton school of apprentices that includes the likes of Hugh Bowman, Sam Clipperton and Bobby El-Issa to name a few.
In contrast to how he now looks at life, and racing, Bell said he had lofty goals as an apprentice and craved success but once among the senior ranks quickly worked out where he stood in the pecking order.
“Every kid has ambitions, I know I did. When you’re an apprentice you just go with the flow, as I got older I thought there wasn’t any point trying to be something I’m not,’’ he said.
“I put all my focus into the riding and making sure I do the right thing by the owners and the trainer. If I can do that it’s all I’m worried about.
“I’ve had a Twitter account for a while but I try to avoid it, I don’t brag about things, I don’t have Facebook and stay away from social media as much as possible.’’
Equine Influenza back in 2007 changed things for Bell.
He’d noticed some of his apprentice peers, riders like Jay Ford, Ron Stewart and Ryan Wiggins, were a bit more successful at breaking into the city and started to wonder if it was really what he wanted.
That doubt didn’t last too long and he was recruited by Patinack Farm to be its leading provincial rider post-EI when the main stable moved to Warwick Farm.
“I found it was a lot harder to get a gig in town. I thought, I had a mortgage and I’ve got to pay bills and going to town for one or two rides wasn’t worth it,’’ he said.
“I enjoy going to the provincials and country. It comes down to that low-profile aspect. I just went with the flow and was getting a lot of success. I just stuck to that.
“As an apprentice you aim high, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but if you’re not getting the results it puts a dampener on things.
“I always thought if you’re riding winners it doesn’t matter where it is. People notice and that’s how the game rolls.’’
Now closing in on 900 career wins, Bell’s more than content with where he stands. There aren’t any Group 1s on the CV, he’s only ridden in five, but he made peace with that a long time ago.
He counts his biggest win as being the inaugural Country Championships in 2015 on Artlee and it’s an achievement he’s proud of.
“You do the rounds of the country circuit to find that horse to get you into the Country Championships,’’ he said.
“I was involved with Artlee leading up to it and winning on the day was a good feeling. For the owners and the trainer to keep me on was the biggest thing.
“A lot of people doubted the horse and probably me but at the end of the day we got it done. That was on a pretty big day.
“I’m not shy of being there on the big days and being successful, it comes down to the cattle you’re on.
“You can chase Group 1s as much as you want. I beat myself up over it for a long time. At the end of the day I’m not the sort of bloke to go begging for it.’’
Bell looks to riders like Jeff Penza and Robert Thompson – though he can’t see himself riding into his 50s – as examples of the type of person, and jockey, he strives to be.
No fuss, get the job done.
It suits his lifestyle. He has three children – the eldest Tayla is 13, plus four-year-old Harper and, of course, young Billy with his wife Hollie – that his world revolves around.
“I’m in a really good place at the moment. I can’t ask for much more. If I can keep it up I’ll be happy,’’ he said.
“I think about life after racing sometimes. As far as training goes, no thank you. I suppose you should never say never but it’s something I can’t see myself doing.
“Hopefully it’s a long way away before I have to start worrying about it.’’