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.”

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.