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

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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.”

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.