Getty Images

Jockey Mike Smith at age 51 eyes big money in Breeders’ Cup

Leave a comment

ARCADIA, Calif. — The ride is far from over for Mike Smith, even at age 51.

The jockey known as “Big Money Mike” is poised for another lucrative weekend in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita with live mounts in the $2 million Distaff with the unbeaten Songbird on Friday and in the $6 million Classic on Saturday aboard Travers winner Arrogate.

“These kind of horses are certainly keeping me around,” Smith said. “I’ve been here longer than I ever thought I would be. It’s been incredible. I don’t look back on it too much. I’m looking forward to this weekend. I’m very blessed to have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, but I still want to add to it.”

The Hall of Famer has already won over 5,300 races, and his mounts have earned $279 million in a career that started in New Mexico in 1982. He has won most major North American stakes races, including the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo.

But the Breeders’ Cup is where Smith shines. He holds the records for wins (22) and purse earnings ($28.9 million) in the season-ending championships.

A major concession to the passage of time is a selective approach. Smith doesn’t ride as many races as in the past, seeking quality over quantity. He has had only 275 mounts this year heading into Breeders’ Cup weekend, yet he leads all American-based riders in average earnings per race at $26,969.

If the money is down, Smith is there.

When Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent Arrogate to the Saratoga for the $1.25 million Travers, he needed a jockey for the gray colt’s first stakes race. Riding the horse for the first time, Smith guided Arrogate to a 13 1/2-length victory in track record time.

“When I reached back and touched him one time, I couldn’t believe how he took off,” Smith said. “I was in awe of what he did.”

Arrogate is the 5-2 second choice in the Classic behind even-money favorite California Chrome.

Songbird, the 6-5 favorite in the Distaff, puts an 11-for-11 record on the line, with Smith in the saddle for every victory.

“She’s probably got to run harder than she’s ever run before, but I think she’s ready to do something like that,” Smith said.

Several years ago, Baffert’s wife, Jill, helped Smith organize his trophy room. With everything polished and presented, son Bode Baffert was awed by the sight.

“Bode looked at all the trophies and said `Daddy, why does Mike Smith have more trophies than you do?”‘ Bob Baffert said. “I told him I’m trying to catch up. I’m a little bit behind.”

So are most jockeys, when it comes to chasing “Big Money Mike.”

Arrogate remains on course for Pacific Classic at Del Mar

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert wasn’t beating himself up a day after Arrogate’s upset loss in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that snapped the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday that other than getting a lot of dirt in his eyes and mouth the 4-year-old colt emerged in good physical condition after finishing fourth, beaten by 15 \ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

Baffert says that as long as Arrogate continues working out well and nothing comes up, the colt will run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Baffert says Arrogate “will be ready next time.”

Arrogate was never better than fourth among the five-horse field during the race. Accelerate led all the way and won by 8 + lengths.

Arrogate soundly beaten by Accelerate in stunner at Del Mar

AP Photo
Leave a comment

DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Mike Smith tried everything he could with Arrogate. He moved the colt to the outside, but he didn’t pick up the pace. Smith dropped him down near the rail before wheeling him outside once more.

Nothing worked.

“He just wasn’t trying,” the Hall of Fame jockey said.

Accelerate stunned overwhelming favorite Arrogate to win the $300,000 San Diego Handicap by 8 1/2 lengths Saturday at Del Mar, snapping the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

Arrogate finished fourth, beaten by 15 1/4 lengths in the 4-year-old colt’s first race since March 25 in Dubai.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Smith said. “He was just flat, so flat.”

His trainer, Bob Baffert, was blunter, saying Arrogate “laid an egg.”

It wasn’t the first time Accelerate got the best of Arrogate. Last year at Los Alamitos, Accelerate beat Arrogate by a neck in the colt’s career debut in a race won by another horse. It was Arrogate’s lone loss until Saturday.

“I thought he’d run better than that,” Baffert said, “but he just didn’t want to go.”

Accelerate lived up to his name, leading all the way while covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.15.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22 as the 7-1 second choice in the field of five.

“He got in a nice rhythm; he was going easy,” said Espinoza, aboard for the first time. “I was surprised by how far I won. I wasn’t surprised that I did; I was here to win.”

Donworth, a 24-1 shot, returned $119.80 and $67.40. His payoffs were a track record, bettering the old mark of $101.60 and $40.20 set by Cipria on Sept. 1, 1955.

Baffert-trained Cat Burglar paid $38.20 to show.

All but $214,466 of the $2,671,938 total win, place and show pool wagering was bet on Arrogate, the 1-20 favorite.

Arrogate’s winning streak included the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He earned $18,000, boosting his career total to $17,102,600, a North American record.

It wasn’t the first time Baffert had led a world-beater to the track only to watch him lose.

That’s what happened in 2015, when American Pharoah was stunned by Keen Ice in the Travers barely two months after becoming horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

“That’s why my hair is white,” Baffert quipped after the race.

Under the race’s handicap conditions, Arrogate carried high weight of 126 pounds, spotting Accelerate nine pounds. But Baffert said the weight difference had nothing to do with the result.

Heading to the rail beforehand, Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, said he thought the race would be closer than people thought.

“You want to win, you don’t want to concede anything, but I’m surprised we won because Arrogate is the best horse in the world,” Sadler said. “A couple of things went right for us and one of them was that Arrogate didn’t fire his best. That’s what has to happen for these big upsets.”

With Accelerate setting the pace, Smith had Arrogate last through the opening half-mile before they began making their move into the far turn. But Arrogate’s rally was brief while Accelerate cruised to the finish line in front of a shocked crowd at the seaside oval north of San Diego.

Arrogate will have a chance to turn the tables in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19, when the two colts are expected to meet again.

“We’ve got to go back and start over again,” Smith said. “Get it back right.”