Updated on 04/07/2017 11:44AM

Smith's second string far from second class

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Barbara D. Livingston
With Unique Bella sidlined, Mike Smith will ride Abel Tasman (above) in the Santa Anita Oaks.

ARCADIA, Calif. – For about an hour last Saturday, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was a racing fan.

On a rare Saturday without a mount, Smith spent lunchtime hanging out at trainer Bob Baffert’s stable at Santa Anita to see Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate arrive at the barn from a quarantine facility.

“I haven’t had a Saturday off in a long time,” he said. “It’s fun. He’s coming back. I can be here.”

A week earlier, Smith won his 11th group or graded stakes of 2017, riding Arrogate to victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. This Saturday, Smith does not get a day off. He has key mounts in the two Grade 1 races at Santa Anita – on Reach the World in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby and Abel Tasman in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks.

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They are replacements for prospects sidelined by injury in the last month.

Smith rode Mastery to an impressive win in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 11 but pulled up the colt about 150 yards after the wire with a leg injury that required surgery. Mastery was rated the leading 3-year-old male in California at the time.

Earlier this year, Smith rode Unique Bella to wins in three consecutive graded stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Unique Bella is considered the leading 3-year-old filly in the nation but is out of training with sore shins.

Unique Bella would have been a heavy favorite in the Santa Anita Oaks. Smith said he did not learn of Unique Bella’s situation until he returned to California from Dubai on March 27.

“The most important thing is she’ll be okay,” Smith said.

Last year, a similar situation occurred with Songbird after her win in the Santa Anita Oaks. Songbird, like Unique Bella trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, became ill in the weeks after the Santa Anita Oaks and did not race again until mid-June. Upon her return, Songbird won four consecutive graded stakes, finished second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and was named the champion 3-year-old filly of 2016.

Smith is hopeful for a similar situation with Mastery and Unique Bella – that they can return to peak form later this year.

“Sometimes missing those races, it prolongs their careers,” he said. “There are great races down the road.”

Smith will ride Abel Tasman for the first time in the Santa Anita Oaks, the filly’s first start for Baffert. Abel Tasman won the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos last December and was second to Unique Bella in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes on March 4 in her first start of the year.

Simon Callaghan trained Abel Tasman for those races, but the filly was transferred to Baffert by co-owner China Horse Club in the days after the Santa Ysabel after a dispute arose over the silks jockey Joe Talamo wore in the Santa Ysabel. Abel Tasman was supposed to wear the China Horse Club silks, but a mix-up occurred, and she wore the silks of co-owner Clearsky Stable.

Reach the World is not as accomplished as Abel Tasman, Mastery, or Unique Bella. Trained by Baffert, Reach the World beat maidens in his second start by 3 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 4 and was second to Battle of Midway in an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on March 9.

Smith said Reach the World must show mental improvement in the Santa Anita Derby.

“He’s very talented,” Smith said. “He needs to get it together.

“He’ll be running so nicely, and he’ll let go. He makes a big move to hit the front. It’s the young things he does. I know the ability is there.”

Smith has only one win in the Santa Anita Derby, on Tiago in 2007. He was fourth last year on Danzing Candy, whom he rode to a 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby last May.

Smith has ridden one Kentucky Derby winner, pulling a 50-1 upset on Giacomo in 2005. It may take a Kentucky Derby win next month to surpass the excitement of Arrogate’s late rally in the Dubai World Cup after getting bumped shortly after the start.

“He’d never been back that far,” Smith said. “He got hit hard. He got stopped for a jump or two. When I got him lined out on the backstretch, he really got into stride. At the three-eighths pole, I thought he’d do something special.”

Arrogate has won 7 of 8 starts and earned $17,084,600, a record for a North American-based Thoroughbred. Arrogate has won four consecutive stakes, all with Smith aboard – the $1.25 million Travers, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, $12 million Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup.