On any race day at Pocono Downs at Mohegan Pennsylvania, a familiar face is seen hustling through the paddock, whether it is pushing a race bike to be cleaned, or to head out to warm up a horse. Willie Mitchell Jr. is constantly in motion, and the former trainer/driver is happy to be hard at work with the horses and sport he loves.
Willie With Treboh Joe

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, ten-year-old Willie moved to Delaware with his mother and stepfather, graduating high school in 1967. “A year or so after that I got drafted into the U.S. Army,” he remembered., “After two years, I made Sergeant. I got out in 1972 but I didn’t reenlist, because the Vietnam War was still going on, and if you reenlisted, you definitely would have had to go to Vietnam. I didn’t see any sense in that, so I started working in Supplies, helping the Supplies Sergeant.”

After getting out of the Army, he returned to his high school job in a department store in Milford, in the shipping department. “I was making just $1.25 an hour in that store!”
A chance trip to Ocean Downs with a friend of the family was all it took for Willie to get bitten by the harness racing bug.
“I fell in love with the horses,” Willie said. “I used to watch them at the races, and clock the horses. We actually lived four miles away from Harrington Raceway, so because we were introduced to the horses, I started going over to Harrington. I was watching the races, clocking the horses, reading about the drivers in the newspapers and the program. I told my mother ‘you know, one day, I think I’m going to do that!’ And somewhere around 1974, I did it.”
Willie got a job at Harrington Raceway for Charlie Pitts. “He was very strict, about everything. I didn’t even know what cross ties were for. It was all new to me, but I knew about horses, though.”
In 1977, Willie started working for the Bill Haughton Stable at Brandywine Raceway. “Right away, after a couple of weeks of working for Billy, they put us behind the gate! So right away I got to experience that.” Willie headed to Florida that winter with the stable.
Back up north the following year, he started with Arthur Koch at Roosevelt Raceway. “I started warming up horses for him while grooming for the Haughton Stable. Arthur and Billy both encouraged me to try qualifying horses, so I went for it!” Willie then headed out to Yonkers Raceway to work with Nick Balducci, feeding his horses and paddocking for him.
“He knew I was thinking about getting a license, but didn’t have a horse.” In 1983, Balducci asked him to train a horse down to 2:10, and then would send him to Freehold Raceway and Willie would qualify him. That was his first ever qualifying race.
“Not many people know this, but I won my very first qualifying race! And who was in the race with me? Herve Filion! I caught the gate and it was the best thing I could have done, because the horse went forward right away. I dropped right in the 2 hole. Herve was cutting the mile, and right before the wire, I got him! I won the race in 2:06.”
It took Willie three years to get his necessary 13 qualifying drives to be licensed, and the judge at Yonkers Raceway, Jimmy Michaels, approved his Provisional License. “I couldn’t drive at Yonkers because you couldn’t drive there with a P license, so, he asked me where I was going, and I said ‘I’ll go to Pocono Downs’. I had picked up a couple more horses by then. I got dropped off at the old concrete ship-in barn at 6:00PM one night, and that was it!”
During Pocono’s winter off-season, Willie went to the Meadows and to Dover Downs. “I kept at it, and I took the good with the bad.”
In 2005, Willie went back to Savannah to be with his ailing mom, who eventually passed away, and he made a decision when he came back. “I decided I didn’t want to drive any longer because I didn’t want to compete against anyone. I got a little depressed, so I decided to come back to the track and help out with some race bikes”.
Looking back at his career, Willie remembers many of his horses fondly, including Speedy Wings; PIA Squared; Northern Accent; and J DS Motoring; but he has many special memories of Treboh Joe, who was famous not for how many races he won, but for how many he didn’t win.
Treboh Joe ended up with Willie at Pocono Downs after the owner asked him to take care of a younger horse, and Treboh Joe came along as a package deal. “They told me they couldn’t pay me to train both horses, but they would pay me to take care of the young horse. They said to race this older horse, and whatever money he makes was mine.”
Willie later found out that Treboh Joe hadn’t won a race since he was a three-year-old, when he broke his maiden at Saratoga Raceway. He was now six-years-old!
“I kept racing him, though, and he picked me up checks! Then all of a sudden, people started calling Pocono, and they wanted to talk to me about Treboh Joe! Animal lovers liked what I was doing, because even though he wasn’t a winner for me, I still took care of him like he was a good horse. People started sending me money from all over the country, even from someone in the Army, to take care of him.”
“The thing about that horse was, and I found out about this later, was that he was afraid of going into the Winner’s Circle. Even jogging in the mornings, if I tried to go in, he would try to fall down, he’d act up. He just wouldn’t go in. So something about his maiden win at Saratoga tricked his mind. In his mind, if he didn’t win the race, he didn’t have to go in the Winner’s Circle,” Willie laughed.
“I took something negative, and turned it around for the animal lovers. When I take care of the horses, I take care of the horses the best I can, and I treat them all with respect.”
Treboh Joe’s final race was on October 11, 1994, and Willie donated him to the Harness Horse Retirement and Youth Association of Loganton, PA.
Now retired from both training and driving, Willie maintains his trainer’s and general A license, should he decide to return to driving. For now, he enjoys warming up horses and driving in occasional qualifiers. He’s happy just being around the horses he loves so much and helping the horsemen.
Willie Mitchell Jr.
Driver Stats
$60,905 Lifetime
Trainer Stats
$40,185 Lifetime
Treboh Joe
$16,438 Lifetime Earnings
World Record for 166 consecutive losses
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