Mike Smith has never ridden Ultrasonic in a race, but all that will change Sunday. That’s when the Hall of Fame jockey pilots the 5-year-old mare owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms and trained by fellow Hall of Fame member Bob Baffert in the Grade II Monrovia Stakes for fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course, which features a right-hand turn before hitting a patch of dirt that leads into the homestretch.
Ultrasonic, a bay daughter of Mizzen Mast, will be making her United States debut, having raced at England’s premier tracks, Ascot, Epsom and Newmarket, winning at Newmarket in July of 2012 under 133 pounds. Her last race was Aug. 10, but she shows two bullet works at Santa Anita among her most recent drills.
“She’s a little bit high-strung,” Baffert said. “When she first got here, she didn’t want to train. I had trouble with her, so we had to sort of trick her . . . she’s quirky. I had to figure her out. She’s extremely fast, and Martin (Garcia) has been working her and doing a really good job with her, but I like Mike Smith on her down the hill on the grass.”
With back-to-back Shoemaker Awards as the Outstanding Jockey in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships the past two years, and with eight wins from 20 starts this meet through the first eight days, Smith is enjoying a banner start to the New Year.
“I had a great year in 2013 riding for Juddmonte, and I hope it carries over,” Smith said. “Ultrasonic’s form shows she belongs in this type of race. Who knows? She might even step up a bit. Sometimes they’ll do that.
“It will be interesting to see how she does. I’ve seen European horses run well down the hill first time out. Overseas, they’re used to going this way, that way, over dirt and different things, so it should be no problem for her as far as coming down the hill. It should just be a matter of if she’s good enough.”
For sure, her rider is good enough. Smith enjoyed a spectacular year in 2013, finishing seventh nationally with more than $13.7 million in purse money won while riding in peak form at age 48.
“Hopefully, in 2014, we’ll continue to be happy and healthy, and all that good stuff,” Smith said.
The field for the Monrovia: Kindle, Rafael Bejarano, 5-2; Purim’s Dancer, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Golden Production, Edwin Maldonado, 15-1; Ciao Bella Luna, Martin Pedroza, 15-1; Sky High Gal, Corey Nakatani, 12-1; Ultrasonic, Mike Smith, 4-1; Pontchatrain, Gary Stevens, 2-1; Camyrn Kate, Tyler Baze, 20-1; and Winding Way, Victor Espinoza, 6-1.
Judy In Disguise was scratched.