11/10/2011 2:30PM

Hovdey: Mr. Smith goes to town in Classic

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Tom Keyser
Last Saturday, Mike Smith took both the BC Classic with Drosselmeyer (above) and the Sprint with Amazombie.

Mike Smith raised a few eyebrows Tuesday morning when he was out early at Hollywood Park beating the weeds for business. Guess folks figured a 45-year-old Hall of Famer fresh off a two-bagger in the Breeders’ Cup would be sleeping in an extra day. Or the rest of the year.

“No way,” Smith protested. “That’s why I went out there to let everybody know I wasn’t about to do that. I’m here to ride.”

The license issued to Michael Earl Smith still says “jockey” and will for the foreseeable future if he has his say, even though the stats indicate a certain lack of inventory. Smith, as healthy as a man could be, has ridden just over 300 horses this year (compared with 1,250 and counting for national leader Ramon Dominguez) and has won with 46.

The key number, though, is the purse total for his mounts, which stands at $7.6 million, good for 13th best in the land. Granted, $3.5 million of that was raked off the table last Saturday at Churchill Downs, after Smith took both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Amazombie and the Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Drosselmeyer, his Belmont winner from 2010. But does anyone really care when you win it, as long as it’s won?

Smith is one of only four riders to have won three or more BC Classics. Let’s put that another way. Jerry Bailey (5), Chris McCarron (5), Pat Day (4), and Smith (3) have won 17 of the 28 Classics contested. The other 11 were won by 11 different jockeys, a veritable Who’s Who list that includes the late Bill Shoemaker and retired Hall of Famers Laffit Pincay, Jorge Velasquez, Jose Santos, and Eddie Delahoussaye, not to mention Alex Solis, Garrett Gomez, Frankie Dettori, and Robby Albarado.

(A nickel for whoever can name the other two – tick, tick – time’s up. It was Javier Castellano and Fernando Jara.)

That leaves Classics yet to be one by such contemporary stars as John Velazquez, Ramon Dominguez, Julien Leparoux, Joel Rosario and Rafael Bejarano, along with the still-active Hall of Fame veterans Edgar Prado and Kent Desormeaux.

They’ve still got Smith to deal with, though. And he’s the guy who came within a couple lengths of winning the last four Classics, after Tiago’s game third in 2008, Zenyatta’s win in 2009 and her heartbreak second in 2010, and Drosselmeyer by a 1 1/2 lengths this time around.

While we’re at it, could someone explain why the Bill Shoemaker Award for the outstanding jockey of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup went to John Velazquez and not that guy Smith, now tied with Jerry Bailey for the all-time lead in Cup wins? Velazquez won a pair of the newer BC races on Breeders’ Cup Friday, while Smith’s came on the traditional Saturday card in two of the original Breeders’ Cup events, including The Big One. For the record, Corey Nakatani also won two, both for Steve Asmussen.

Please don’t tell me the tiebreaker was seconds and thirds, of which Velazquez had a few. I’d rather it be decided by height, or arm wrestling. Anyway, go ask Johnny V. if he’d trade his two wins and throw in the Shoemaker Award for Smith’s fair pair on Saturday. I’m betting yes he would, in a heartbeat.

Smith’s work for WinStar Farm and Bill Mott aboard Drosselmeyer was a precision piece of high-stakes execution. They saved ground on the first turn, where you’re supposed to, then let the bulk of the pack scrimmage among themselves until the head of the stretch. Having spent no capital to that point in terms of territory lost, Smith pulled one of those crack-the-whip moves familiar to devotees of his work with Zenyatta and found himself quickly in the dead center of the track, his colt running straight and true, with nothing in front of him but horses already stretched to their distance limits.

Trevor Denman, who force-fed fans the contrived preliminaries and dull resolution of the “Battle of the Exes” match race at Del Mar last summer, immediately jumped on the fact that it was Smith and former flame Chantal Sutherland, aboard the tenacious Game On Dude, finishing one-two in the most prestigious race of the year. This was the ending the reality show “Jockeys” could never script, and Smith knew pulling up there would be plenty winks and nudges awaiting him in post-race interviews. He didn’t let it spoil the moment.

“Yeah, it was like ‘Here we go again,’ ” Smith said. “I’ve turned the page – I just wish everyone else would. But I understand. I guess it makes for good media.

“Her horse ran great and she rode well,” Smith added. “She should be very proud. But to think it mattered to me who finished second is so not true. This was the Breeders’ Cup Classic, man. Whoever I had to pass to win it, that’s who I was going to pass.”

He had a point. In 2009 at Santa Anita, Smith broke Ramon Dominguez’s heart when he came roaring past Gio Ponti with Zenyatta to win by a length.

“That’s right,” Smith said. “And me and Ramon are still friends.”

In fact, there was a very special female on Smith’s mind as he came flying down the lane at Churchill Downs. Zenyatta’s near miss there to Blame, her only defeat in 20 lifetime starts, still haunts Smith when he lets his mind drift to that night a year ago when the big mare had trouble with the surface. Drosselmeyer, by contrast, gave Smith no such pause.

“He just floated over it,” Smith said. “He truly loved it.”

Smith had planned to visit Zenyatta at Lane’s End Farm in Lexington last Thursday, before the Breeders’ Cup action commenced, but the storm sweeping through Kentucky kept him off the road. He’s looking forward to visiting her around Thanksgiving.

“This was special, because it came a year after being so narrowly beaten on her,” Smith said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing that one, but this one did take away some of the hurt.”