09/30/2007 11:00PM

Smith enjoys Grade 1 double

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - In the wake of the slam-bang finish of the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last Saturday, when Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago held off a desperate surge from San Fernando Stakes winner Awesome Gem, a police helicopter began circling overhead, patrol cars raced through the stable gates, and a phalanx of mounted officers fell in line.

It was an impressive display of enforcement capabilities, but also a blatant over-reaction. Just because Mike Smith won two Grade 1 races in a single afternoon, that was no reason to call out the National Guard.

As it turned out, there was a scrap or two in the infield among young men inspired by the variety of flavors offered at a microbrew festival sponsored by Los Angeles radio station KROQ. This reporter, fearing there would be spilled beer, arrived on the scene to witness a couple of bloody noses and police horses calmly herding Santa Anita customers toward the exits. In the end, though, the incident hardly rose to the level of a Preakness infield at half-speed.

Smith made more noise with his Grade 1 double, which hadn't happened to him since the 2002 Breeders' Cup with Azeri and Vindication. After that, he guided Azeri to a second straight championship season in 2003 and won the 2005 Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo, but the headlines have been few and far between.

Smith doesn't ride much - just 685 mounts in 2006 and 397 so far this year - and he has been bouncing around, from California to New York to Kentucky and back to California. He also turned 42 in August, which is hardly a death sentence. But prejudices exist, and jockeys of a certain age these days find themselves up against a vigorous youth movement led by the likes of Julien Leparoux, Michael Baze, and Joe Talamo. If you are not prepared to ride like you are 25, better take a seat.

When inspired, though, there is none better, and Smith was at his Hall of Fame best last Saturday. For openers, he won the 1 1/16-mile Oak Leaf Stakes by a nose with the Street Cry filly Cry and Catch Me, then an hour later took the nine-furlong Goodwood by the same margin with his old pal Tiago.

The program also featured another victory by unbeaten Nashoba's Key in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, followed Sunday by the emergence of Dixie Chatter as California's "now" 2-year-old colt after his Norfolk Stakes win. As a result, fans of West Coast racing appear to have plenty to follow when the best in training convene at Monmouth Park for the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 26 and 27.

Smith is just happy to be along for the ride. He has won 10 Breeders' Cup events - good for third on the all-time list - but since his huge day in 2002, Smith has managed one lonely third-place finish in four subsequent Cups.

At the end of an unusually full card Saturday, he stripped off his last set of silks, mopped his face, and took a deep breath.

"Man, I haven't ridden eight in a long time," Smith said. "And tomorrow seven. I love it."

Smith is a fitness freak, strong as a steel cable, or perhaps in his case the comparison should be to the platinum rod that helps keep his spine aligned and stable after serious fractures suffered in 1998.

"It can take a couple rides to get things going sometimes," Smith said. "Then you really start to roll. I could go eight more now."

Smith obviously has all the tools. You don't win more than 4,600 races without them, and his complete repertoire was on display last Saturday.

Aboard Cry and Catch Me, Smith had to calm his filly after the stress of an eventful first turn, then let her relax as much as possible while faced with challenges both inside and out. They got a little breather around the furlong pole, but then came Izarra - Bayakoa's granddaughter - and the race was on again.

Tiago, scratched from the Pacific Classic in August, had not run since winning the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 14. For the Goodwood, Smith allowed his colt to settled in midpack, then dart between horses at a key point to get the advantage on Awesome Gem, who went wide. It probably made the difference, because the difference wasn't much.

"I was really hoping they would run like they did," Smith noted. "The filly broke her maiden going 5 1/2, and now she was going two turns. With Tiago, we missed the race at Del Mar, so it had been awhile since he'd run. To win, when both of them could have needed one, that's as good as you'd want. They both should improve off today."

Without the offspring of the broodmare Set Them Free, life would have been pretty boring for Smith these last three seasons. Her sons, Giacomo and Tiago, could not be more dissimilar as racehorses. Giacomo was the mild-mannered, long-striding grinder who loved the sight of a hot pace up front, while Tiago is a colt with an edge, a guy who can make things happen.

"He is so strong," Smith said. "And he's a good horse. I guess we'll find out how good at Monmouth."