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Breeders Cup 2015
Kentucky Derby 2017
HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Mike Smith Made the Best Decision

Almost as soon as all nineteen horses crossed the wire and before the excitement could truly hit in Camp Orb, criticism of Mike Smith’s ride on Palace Malice came flying in from all sides. After three tough losses in last year’s Triple Crown races in which his mounts ran winning races only to be caught at the wire, you can believe that Smith did not want to go through that again. However, a combination of an equipment change and circumstances morphed a well thought out plan into a nightmare trip.
Leading up to the running of Kentucky Derby 139, the Todd Pletcher trained Palace Malice worked with a set of blinkers. Exercise rider Jake Nelson said that Palace Malice felt more focused and intent on the job at hand while wearing the blinkers. Pletcher was also pleased with how his Curlin colt worked with them and made the decision to run him in the Derby with the added equipment. Going into the race, his and jockey Mike Smith’s game plan was for Palace Malice to sit just off the speed, but that plan was shot to pieces before the field even hit the clubhouse turn.
With the exception of Java’s War and Orb who was a beat slow, the field broke well. As expected, Goldencents, Falling Sky, and Itsmyluckyday all flashed early speed, but Palace Malice was right there with them. Those four went straight to the front out in the middle of the track with Oxbow right there with them down toward the rail. As the field began to converge and take up position, Falling Sky angled to the inside and pinched back Itsmyluckyday, leaving Oxbow, Goldencents, Palace Malice out on the lead from the rail out. Initially, Palace Malice allowed Goldencents to go by him, but as soon as that foe had gained a half length advantage, Palace Malice took off.
You can see in the head on shot that Smith at first attempted to stick to the plan and rate Palace Malice behind the speed, but as soon as it became apparent that the Curlin colt wanted no part of that plan, Smith realized that he had two choices and both would likely end with the same result. He could let Palace Malice go to the front, dictate the pace, and tire in the stretch; or he could fight his mount causing the colt to expend his energy battling his rider rather than battling his rivals and still tire in the stretch. Smith chose the former rather than the latter and sat chilly on Palace Malice, neither fighting him not encouraging him on the lead, until the far turn.
Given the circumstances, Mike Smith made the best decision he possibly could with the hand he had been dealt. No jockey ever wants to battle a rank mount, especially on a sloppy racetrack. Had Smith attempted to rate Palace Malice, he ran the risk of the colt potentially injuring himself while fighting to get his head. In such a large field, that could have been disastrous not only for Smith and Palace Malice but also for the other horses and riders on the track. 


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Older Comments about Mike Smith Made the Best Decision...

All that his ride on Palace Malice did was eliminate himself and the others that needed the front end or a slow pace to win and set it up for closers like Revolutionary(another Pletcher horse) and the other big closers. I think he got instructions to do just what he did in the race.Smith has been around long enough to know those suicidal fractions would kill his chances for the win or even a place in the money.
I believe Mike made the right call. Unfortunately, Palace Malice tired, but if this had been the Preakness, No Doubt, Palice Malice would have won. It's just a shame they did not skip the Derby & go for the Preakness, which in my opinion, would have been his race to win...Just like his sire, Curlin.
Pletcher 1=36 and counting. Blinkers/No Blinkers. Rank or ree running this guy had no chance. Like all the Pletchers a complete toss from win consideration. Those numbers tell the tale.
Mike did the right thing for this horse. Instead of fighting him and causing more problems, he let the horse run it's race. We all know horse's have a mind of there own!
The way I see it, Pletcher gave Dogwood a chance when they saw their horse in front, rather than just trailing the whole way around and finishing 6th. I think I'd rather see my horse make the pace for the majority of the race than never get into it
Thanks Goblin, I missed that and still agreeing totally that Mike's decision regardless was correct.
As I said before, I completely agree with your analysis Ashley.
likin sparks, Mike Smith did work Palace Malice (with blinkers) a few days before the Derby. HRTV showed Overanalyze and PM working together with Gary Stevens on Overanalyze and Mike Smith on PM---only one work, but he had mounted the horse prior to the race. There are several photos of Mike on PM at the BH site--I'll try to link one. Regardless, Mike probably made the best decision he could in not fighting PM when the colt wanted to go. http://photos.bloodhorse.com/TripleCrown/2013-Triple-Crown/Kentucky-Derby-Workouts/29026796_jvcnn8#!i=2479772552&k=pk6wNjh
@ tcglory, a lot of us who have been here for awhile know who you are. I say that for no other purpose than we know you can talk horse racing when needed. You know as well as I a horse check hard even if it doesn't become rank loses momentum. Nice article Ashley, spot on.
@jmac >> Funny Cide did :)
  • icyhotboo · EZ amino998, jmac500 by his own admission makes so many posts and comments that he's only right about 10% of the time. He does put some interesting things up though. · 1455 days ago
Think he means it's Pletcher's fault because of the major equipment change before such a big race. In a way, he's right. Best not to mix things up before the biggest race of a horse's life
I really don't think it mattered where P.M. raced, whether on the lead or just off the pace etc... he just was not even going to hit the board IMO. No question M.S. did a great job of just not fighting P.M. and rode a masterful race considering the circumstance's.
Can we confirm that Johnny V never exercised AK prior to the Derby? I have to ask how is Pletcher the blame now? This gets better by the minute.
i think johnny V. rode animal kingdom for the first time,,,lame excuse for mike smith to never rode him,,,,,most of what happened to him and palace malice was all done by pletcher!!!!!
Another thing in Mike's defense was that this was the first time he mounted the horse, most other jocks has some time with their mounts and Mike did the best he could for what he was given.
A piece of info they said was no horse has ever won the Derby after an equipment change.
I don't think they should have been experimenting with blinkers in The Derby.
I agree he made the best choice and people are bashing him because of last year but he's a great jockey and actually shows emotion.
Folks may want to criticize Mike's racing decisions in the 3 yo classic races lately, but his record in the last 4 BC Classics stands on its own: 2009 - win, 2010 - second, 2011 - win, 2012 - second. In the exacta in the last 4 BC Classics. Not too shabby.

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.


Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.


An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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