09/30/2008 12:00AM

Smith loaded for Ladies' Day


ARCADIA, Calif. - A quick check of the calendar reveals that Christmas could come two months early this year for Mike Smith. He has no complaints.

At this point, Smith has two slam dunks waiting for him on the five-race Breeders' Cup Ladies' Day program to be run Friday, Oct. 24. Zenyatta's victory in the Ladies' Classic has become a foregone conclusion, underlined by her dismissal of Hystericalady in the Lady's Secret Stakes last Saturday. And if there is a 2-year-old filly out there who can out-kick Smith's Oak Leaf Stakes winner Stardom Bound for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she is keeping herself a secret.

Still, they have to show up on the day. The confluence of so many good horses makes for a kaleidoscopic mix of results, as the history of the Ladies' Classic alone bears witness. In its 24 runnings as the Distaff (note to those in charge: As long as you're going down this road, please try to get Tim Meadows to present the trophy, in character, as The Ladies Man Leon Phelps), the race has whipsawed from the runaway predictability of Princess Rooney, Inside Information, Lady's Secret, and Paseana, to the shocking upsets of One Dreamer, Spain, and Pleasant Home, to the tragedies of Go for Wand and Pine Island.

Zenyatta won her eighth race Saturday without a defeat. Afterward, the Smith made the somewhat frightening observation that the filly is reaching a new level.

"She's really starting to get the idea," Smith said. "She's learning how to run. She's getting stronger. She takes me where she needs to be now, and that's a great feeling." Translation: a bad feeling for everyone else.

Smith's attachment to both fillies is deep and abiding. He has ridden Stardom Bound for owner Charlie Cono in all four of her races and Zenyatta the last five of her eight for Ann and Jerry Moss. Smith shakes his head in wonder each time they are mentioned and places them with the best he has ever known. This puts them in tall company, since the Smith list includes the likes of Horse of the Year Azeri and Hall of Famer Inside Information, as well as champions Sky Beauty and Heavenly Prize.

In keeping with such standards, both Zenyatta and Stardom Bound make the game look easy. Last Saturday, Smith merely steered, but steered well. After the Oak Leaf, he was asked why he bothered carrying a whip.

"Just for balance, I guess," Smith said with a grin. "They both just sort of fall out of there and trail the field, then they get into this gallop where they're starting to catch horses. When you ask them, they drop down and lengthen their stride with such ease. The next thing you know they've gone by everybody."

Smith calls Stardom Bound his "baby Zenyatta." When you're a Hall of Famer who's ridden for 26 years, you get to say such things. Even so, Stardom Bound is a gray string bean compared to the massive dimensions of the older filly.

"She's all legs, kind of like Azeri early on," Smith said of Stardom Bound. "You don't know until you get on and move off with them, and then they move with such balance.

"I was a little concerned today, because she's got this little quirk. She'll ball up in the gate, and if they kick it on the ball, she pops in the air. Today, Johnny" - that would be assistant starter John Lopez - "said, 'I want to try something.' He stretched her neck out so she couldn't ball up, kind of stiff-armed her, and it really worked. You worry about one stumbling like that, but she got away great."

Since the inception of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, no big-name rider has won Breeders' Cup races with more efficiency than Smith. One of the 17 jockeys with at least 40 mounts, Smith has 10 wins from 57 tries, including back-to-back wins on Lure in the 1992 and '93 Breeders' Cup Mile, and two wins on each program in 1994, 1995, 1997, and 2002.

However, no jockey has ever won three Breeders' Cup races on the big day. Smith came close at Arlington Park in 2002 when Azeri won the Distaff, Vindication won the Juvenile, and Composure just missed to Storm Flag Flying in the Juvenile Fillies. That was a pretty good day. On the other hand, Smith still doesn't know how he could have failed to win at least three in 1994, when his winners were Tikannen and Cherokee Run, but his losing mounts included Sky Beauty, Lure, Devil His Due, and Talkin Man.

Six years is a long time between Breeders' Cup drinks. Since 2002, Smith has moved his tack back and forth across the country a couple times, won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, opened a winery with fellow rider Alex Solis, and started dating Chantal Sutherland. But no Breeders' Cup luck.

That could change in a big way. Beyond Zenyatta's $2 million Ladies' Classic tap-in and Stardom Bound's clear superiority, Smith also has a live mount in the Filly and Mare Sprint with Rancho Bernardo Handicap winner Dearest Trickski and in the Breeders' Cup Classic with Oaklawn Handicap winner Tiago, Zenyatta's stablemate.

"I really love that day," Smith said. "To go in with the opportunities we have right now is amazing."