12/02/2016 3:36PM

Hovdey: Race riding will be on display in Matriarch


Somebody, bring a camera.

The parade of riders filing out of the Del Mar jockeys room at a quarter past three on Sunday afternoon will be a sight to see. No one will need a program to match names and faces.

This is no Breeders’ Cup confluence, where all hands are required on deck, or a Kentucky Derby, where everyone shows up just in case. It’s a cool day in early December at a track hardly known for hot toddies and holiday décor, offering a purse that will change no one’s life. And just look who is showing up for the $300,000 Matriarch, at one mile on grass.

Let’s start with the Hall of Famers. Kent Desormeaux (class of 2004) won the Matriarch last year aboard the 65-1 Stormy Lucy. This year, he rides Tiz a Kiss, another longshot. John Velazquez (inducted in 2012) will be aboard Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner Time and Motion. Mike Smith (2003) will roll with Prize Exhibit, while Edgar Prado (2008) landed the outside post with the favored Miss Temple City.

The slam-dunk future Hall of Famers include Javier Castellano on Zindaya for Chad Brown and Victor Espinoza taking over for Desormeaux on the stretch-running Decked Out. At the rate they’re going, the Hall also will need to make room someday for Florent Geroux and Irad Ortiz Jr., who will be riding the two other Brown fillies, Roca Rojo and Mexican Gold.

Both Tyler Baze (Nancy From Nairobi) and Drayden Van Dyke (Stays in Vegas) own Eclipse Awards as champion apprentices. Martin Garcia (Sobradora Inc) has won four Breeders’ Cup events, a Preakness, and the Kentucky Oaks. That leaves Tiago Pereira, who rides the Chilean stakes winner Kitcat. Only 16 jockeys have won the Dubai World Cup, and Pereira is one of them.

With so much talent in the irons, it could be assumed that none of the dozen running has an advantage at the helm. Still, the one-mile grass race run inside a one-mile dirt track can be a nasty, unpredictable beast, especially with a large field.

The rapid scramble to the first turn is always entertaining, if by “entertaining” you mean train wrecks and tornadoes. After that comes the first of two 180-degree switchbacks, a straightaway backstretch that is over way too soon, followed by the other switchback turn and the final straight to the wire.

Mike Smith has never won the Matriarch. The news comes as a surprise because it seems as if Smith has won just about every major race this side of the Little Brown Jug. He would like to take care of that detail on Sunday aboard the British filly Prize Exhibit for D P Racing and trainer Jim Cassidy.

Prize Exhibit has been a stalwart player on the Southern California circuit ever since her stateside debut in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. That day, she closed from far back in the field of 13 to be beaten about five lengths by Lady Eli.

Ever since, Prize Exhibit keeps telling Cassidy, “Put me in, coach.” And he does, for 10 starts in 2015 and 10 this year going into the Matriarch. Along the way, she has won three graded stakes, including the San Clemente over the Matriarch’s course and distance, and hit the board in enough rich spots to have earned well over half a million dollars.

Smith rode Prize Exhibit to an allowance win in her first race for Cassidy and more recently was reunited with the filly to be fifth behind Zindaya in the Goldikova.

“She can’t just go out there and run a real good race,” Smith said. “She’ll have to come up with one of those extra-good races to have a chance to win it. And she’s done it a time or two before.”

Smith will tell you that the greatest miler he ever rode was Lure, and no one will argue. Together, they won Breeders’ Cup Miles at Gulfstream Park in 1992 from post 1 and at Santa Anita in 1993 from post 12. Both races were on seven-furlong grass courses.

“Sometimes you think you’ve got a good post and think it should be easy, but then your trip ends up being worse because of the tight track,” Smith said. “Then sometimes you’ll have such a good trip you’ll go, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’

“You try to set yourself up to be in a position to catch a few breaks,” Smith added. “And you have to know every tiny detail about the riders and the horses you’re in against. Some guys like to get in the clear earlier and tip out, and you can afford to stay behind them a little longer. Others who stay tucked in, you figure you’ll have to find somehow to work your way out. And then something might happen in front of the horses you follow and it works out for you just because you’re in the second flight instead of the first flight.”

Helter-skelter miles like the Matriarch always seem to be over before they start, with a cluster of runners at the finish who shoulda-coulda-woulda won had the breaks gone another way.

“I guarantee there will be three or four jocks come back to the room claiming they should have won, and they’ve all got a decent excuse,” Smith said. “It happens to everybody.”

And it will happen again on Sunday.