Smith opts for loyalty over mount in $1 million Belmont

Jun 2, 2009 5:07 PM
Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

"No one can serve two masters."–Jesus (A.D. 1st century). Matthew 6:24.

Hey, if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Mike Smith.

That’s why the Hall of Fame jockey surrendered the mount on Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, the blue collar longshot that won the Derby under Calvin Borel at 50-1, and finished second with Smith aboard in the Preakness Stakes, behind the victorious filly, Rachel Alexandra, ridden by Borel.

No matter that Mine That Bird runs in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Smith said early on he wouldn’t ride the Derby winner in the mile and a half classic, final leg of racing’s Triple Crown, before it was announced last Friday that Rachel Alexandra wouldn’t run, leaving Borel to ride Mine That Bird.

In fact, Smith won’t ride any horse in the Belmont, not even Chocolate Candy, who finished fifth under Smith in the Derby. Garrett Gomez rides the son of Candy Ride for Jerry Hollendorfer. Smith will be watching the Belmont on TV in the jocks’ room at Hollywood Park.

Turns out Smith and his agent, Brad Pegram, spurned Mine That Bird to ride Madeo for owners Jerry and Ann Moss in the Grade I Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park Saturday. Loyalty prevailed.

Smith, who turns 44 on Aug. 10, is the go-to guy for the Mosses and John Shirreffs, trainer for the prominent owners and breeders, who campaign undefeated female champion Zenyatta and 2007 Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago, among others. Smith is the regular rider of Zenyatta, and it was Smith, Shirreffs and the Mosses who shocked the racing world in 2005 when their Giacomo captured the Run for the Roses at 50-1.

Thus, from Smith’s perspective, it was a no-brainer that he ride Madeo for Shirreffs and the Mosses in the $300,000 Whittingham instead of Mine That Bird for trainer Ben (Chip) Woolley Jr. in the $1 million Belmont. Money, in this instance, wasn’t everything.

"It was something that was already done beforehand and it’s not going to change," Smith told Associated Press when he made the decision. "The Mosses are my No. 1 and no one else. It would have been nice if the timing was different, but I have no regrets whatsoever."

Not that he won’t keep a sharp eye on Mine That Bird in the Belmont. As to the outcome, understandably, Smith said it would hinge on what horses compete and the pace scenario.

"It all depends on who runs and what kind of pace there is," he said. "If it’s pretty decent, I would think that Mine That Bird will love it. He’s a hard-knocking little horse, anyway. He’s going to finish strong no matter what, so I would think that he’d run huge in the Belmont."

Smith had an eventful trip on Mine That Bird in the mile and three-sixteenths Preakness, taking the overland route. Borel, as is his wont, hugged the rail in winning the Derby by nearly seven lengths, and is back aboard the gelding for the Belmont.

"In the Preakness, my horse had to steady a few times and wait for some room and work his way out," Smith said. "He was getting out on the turn a little bit while she (front-running Rachel Alexandra) was getting away from us. If that doesn’t happen, I would have had a great chance to catch her.

"I only got beat three-quarters of a length (officially, it was one length), and I had to wait, while she was opening up, so you’d think that if all things went well, I’d have been able to catch her."

Catch her or not, Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra, Borel and Smith have provided racing with a desperately-needed infusion of page one PR, a boost that’s rarer than a sports mascot with genitalia. To the dismay of PETA, Mine That Bird made the cover of Sports Illustrated after he won the Derby.

"Without a doubt, Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra have helped racing," Smith said. "It’s neat that they both jumped up and ran great. He proved he wasn’t a fluke, and she proved she’s a champion."

The homestretch

• Belmont picks: Mine That Bird, Charitable Man, Chocolate Candy.

• One burning question for former California Horse Racing Board Chairman Richard Shapiro, who, if he did key horse owner Jerry Jamgotchian’s 2007 Jaguar in Hollywood Park’s parking lot on April 24 as alleged: "What were you thinking?

• Listening to the informative and articulate broadcast team on TNT and the dearth of meaningless clutter from the bland brood on ABC and ESPN during the NBA playoffs is comparable to reading Shakespeare and Mad Magazine.

• With the best record in baseball, do the Dodgers really need to find a spot for Manny Ramirez when he comes back next month?

• Does anybody miss Barry Bonds?

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden