Smith's Breeders' Cup mount decisions didn't come easily

Jockey Mike Smith says he’s been blessed to ride the amount of big horses he has this year. But as they meet in the same Breeders' Cup races, it made for two tough decisions.

Smith is sticking with the 3-year-old
 McKinzie in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over West Coast, and he’ll pilot Abel Tasman in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff instead of Midnight Bisou. 

The jockey admitted he's not sure whether he made the the right decisions.

“I hope I have, but I know how talented the ones are that I’ve been blessed to ride that I had to take off of. It’s kind of scary for me," Smith said. "I could just as easy see West Coast in the winner’s circle. I could see Midnight Bisou in the winner’s circle. I could see several of them in there that I’ve been on. It wouldn’t be a shocker. Just got to hope I made the right choices. That’s all.”

When it came to his Classic decision, Smith said he risked losing the mount to another rider if McKinzie won without him. That horse will remain in training next year, while the 4-year-old West Coast is off to stud. John Velazquez will instead ride West Coast.

Smith was also aboard for McKinzie’s return race Sept. 22, when the pair won the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) together. It was McKinzie’s first race in over six months following his lone defeat in five starts. Even though the Classic will be McKinzie’s first race against older horses, plus longest yet at 1 1/4 miles, Smith believes there’s still a lot of talent McKinzie has yet to showcase.

“It’s the first time he’s going to step up with these kind of horses, and who knows? No one really knows until you do it,” Smith said. “But in size, and toughness, he’s been battle-tested. He’s been knocked around a little bit, and he’s not a little horse. If anything, he might be as big, if not bigger, as all of them in there. He’s a big, big powerful horse.”

In the Distaff, Smith is going with the older filly in Abel Tasman over 3-year-old Midnight Bisou, who he won the Cotillion (G1) with when Monomoy Girl was disqualified to second. Velazquez also inherited that mount.

Smith was the regular jockey when Midnight Bisou was trained in Southern California by Bill Spawr and retained the mount when she moved East with trainer Steve Asmussen.

“You hate to give up a horse like her, especially a 3-year-old, because you know they’re going to race at 4,” Smith said. “I’m not too sure if Abel Tasman, if she pulls this off, if she’ll retire and become a momma. So you hate to give one up.”

Smith also said to cross out Abel Tasman’s last race, in which she flopped in the Zenyatta (G1) at Santa Anita and finished fifth. He speculated it could have been a sickness going around the barn or a result of running extra hard when out-dueling Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1) a race earlier.

“She didn’t run and get outrun. She just didn’t run,” Smith said. “Sometimes those kind of things are a blessing in disguise because maybe she would have ran too hard again. She’s coming in fresh. She’s going to be ready.”

Smith and Abel Tasman were also 7 ½-length winners in the Ogden Phipps (G1) before heading to the Personal Ensign. They paired to win the 2017 Kentucky Oaks and sit a 7-2 morning line second choice behind this year’s Oaks winner, Monomoy Girl, in the Distaff.

“Abel being an older mare has run faster numbers than the 3-year-olds when she runs her 'A' race. And China Horse Club, I’m partial to them,” he added with a laugh, as the group was also involved with Triple Crown winner Justify. “We’ve done very well together.”

The Distaff and the Classic are both scheduled for Saturday at Churchill Downs. The Classic will be the grand finale of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races this weekend, and Smith is already wanting to get rolling on McKinzie.

“We’re not without a really good chance and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I wish it was today. I’m ready.”

 

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