02/11/2015 2:25PM

Smith fit for another run at roses

Barbara D. Livingston
Mike Smith, 49, has four legitimate Kentucky Derby prospects.

ARCADIA, Calif. – On Wednesday morning, Mike Smith was at Santa Anita to work a horse at 6:30, and though he had the rest of the day off on this non-racing day, it was hardly an off day. Smith was headed to the gym for a workout that would crush jockeys half his age.

Smith, 49, was to ride a stationary bike for 15 miles, run for three miles, then get on a rowing machine and go another three miles. And since that’s not nearly enough, he then was to go on a three-mile hike in the hills above Santa Anita, because, well, what’s another three miles after you’ve cycled, run, and rowed 21?

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That commitment to fitness is the reason Smith, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2003, has been able to remain the most sought-after big-race rider in the sport, more than two decades after he won his first Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey, and exactly 10 years since his lone Kentucky Derby win, which came aboard Giacomo.

“When the big money is down, that’s the guy you want,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said after he and Smith teamed to win last Saturday’s San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita with Shared Belief.

The demand for Smith’s services are reaching a peak during this Derby prep season. Smith and his agent, Brad Pegram, have lined up mounts on four prospects – including three members of the current Derby Watch top 20 – in four stakes at four different tracks over the next few weeks.

Smith on Saturday is scheduled to ride Summer Stakes winner Conquest Typhoon in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. On Monday, he’s scheduled to be at Oaklawn to ride Smarty Jones winner Far Right in the Southwest. On Feb. 21, he’s off to Fair Grounds to ride Imperia, the Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up, for the first time in the Risen Star. And on March 7 he’s slated to ride Ocho Ocho Ocho, the unbeaten winner of the Delta Jackpot, in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.

“It’s a great line-up, and they all seem to be doing real well,” Smith said Wednesday morning. “Now’s the time to see who graduates and moves on. I’m really blessed. All these horses are live. There’s no, ‘Oh, he might make it.’ I want to stay with them as long as I can.”

With Smith aboard for the first time, Far Right rallied from last in the field of nine to win the one-mile Smarty Jones. Far Right finished a troubled third in the Delta Jackpot in his only start at 1 1/16 miles, the distance of the Southwest.

“I think he’ll get every bit of that distance,” Smith said. “He’s not a big horse, but he’s well made. He was finding his best stride at the end of the mile last time, and he galloped out well. We’ll find out if he can go a mile and a sixteenth. Last time, going a mile, they end at the first finish line. It’s a short stretch. This race ends at the second finish line.”

Smith said he dropped Far Right well out of it last time after studying the way Corey Lanerie rode Far Right in the Delta Jackpot.

“He settled really good for Lanerie and made a run,” Smith said. “It was the first time he settled.”

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In the Smarty Jones, Far Right came up the rail to beat Bayerd and Mr. Z, a D. Wayne Lukas trainee who led at midstretch but then sharply veered out.

“I thought I had left my horse too much to do, but then Wayne Lukas’s horse went to the far right – pun intended – just as my horse was starting to level off and finish,” Smith said.

Smith does his homework. In addition to preparing his body in the gym on off days, he’ll prepare his mind prior to races by studying past performances and the tendencies of opposing riders. In the San Antonio on Shared Belief, “It played out like the picture I had in my head,” Smith said.

“The way I handicapped it was the way it set up,” Smith continued. “You always have a few different scenarios in your head – if Plan A doesn’t work out, you go to Plan B – but this time Plan A worked out.”

Smith has won 5,253 races, including every Triple Crown race, most recently the 2013 Belmont on Palace Malice. He leads all riders in Breeders’ Cup wins with 21, most recently last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint with Judy the Beauty. He wants more.

“I’m doing well, I’m feeling good, and I feel I’m riding really well,” Smith said. “I feel better than ever. I’m hooked on fitness. I love to train, and when it comes to riding, with experience, there’s nothing like it.”