10/09/2011 3:45PM

Santa Anita: Amazombie, Mr. Commons two big reasons for Mike Smith to smile

Shigeki Kikkawa
Amazombie, winner of Saturday's Ancient Title at Santa Anita, is one of two prime mounts Mike Smith has lined up for the Breeders' Cup.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Compared with  last year, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will go into the Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4-5 as just another rider with high hopes for the rich races.

Last year, Smith was at center stage, riding Zenyatta in the BC Classic in an attempt to extend the famous mare’s unbeaten streak to 20 races in her final career start. She finished second to Blame by a head, a setback that left Smith in tears.

This year, there will not be as much pressure.

Sunday at Santa Anita, Smith, 46, was looking forward to Nov. 5 and was all smiles. Saturday, Smith rode two Breeders’ Cup hopefuls in major stakes – Amazombie won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes for sprinters, beating the heavily favored The Factor; and Mr. Commons was second to Jeranimo in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile on turf.

As of Sunday morning, both Amazombie and Mr. Commons were bound for the BC Sprint and BC Mile.

 “I thought they ran lights out,” Smith said of his mounts.

Amazombie won his first Grade 1 stakes in the Ancient Title, closing from last in a field of six to win by three-quarters of a length over Irrefutable.  The Factor, sent off as the 2-5 favorite, set a fast pace and faded to finish fourth.

Amazombie, trained by Bill Spawr, was among Smith’s stops through the Santa Anita stables on Sunday morning. The jockey reported that the race took little toll on the 5-year-old gelding.

“You wouldn’t think he ran,” Smith said. “He was playing in his stall.”

 Co-owned by Spawr and Tom Sanford, Amazombie has won four stakes this year, all in Southern California. Smith is eager  to ride a closer such as Amazombie at Churchill Downs, which has a quarter-mile stretch.

In 1994, Smith rode the late-running Cherokee Run to a win in the BC Sprint at Churchill Downs.

“I won it that way on Cherokee Run,” he said. “I sat back and he flew home.”

Sunday morning, trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that The Factor was bound for the BC Sprint.

“He just got in a little speed duel,” Baffert said. “He’ll get a lot out of it.”

Mr. Commons closed from last to finish second to Jeranimo by three-quarters of a length. Trained by John Shirreffs, who also trained Zenyatta, Mr. Commons has never won a graded stakes.

“He acted up in the gate and that probably cost him a little bit,” Shirreffs said. “We haven’t seen the best of Mr. Commons.”

Still, Smith is ready to take on European shippers such as three-time defending champion Goldikova and the multiple stakes winner Strong Suit with Mr. Commons with Jeranimo.

“I thought he ran lights out,” Smith said. “I really like him and think he’ll get better off the race. In defeat, I think it was a good prep race for the Breeders’ Cup.”

Plans for Jeranimo are not certain, although trainer Mike Pender said a start in the BC Mile is a possibility. Pender said that he and owner B.J. Wright will make plans in coming weeks.