Smith jockeying for this Derby to end a winner

May 07, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The first time Mike Smith won a race, he took the lead and never looked back.

That was a dozen years ago when Smith was 16 years old and riding for his uncle at Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico.

"I just remember standing up and saying: 'Wow, what a feeling. I can't wait to do that again,' " he recalled. "But, as soon as I got off, I had to feed 12 head and muck their stalls."

Today, for the second straight year, Smith is riding the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He has never won the race, although he won 62 stakes races last year, a record for an American jockey, and has already won 22 stakes during the first third of 1994.

Unlike last year, when Smith had the perfect rear view of the Derby field, and came from 16th out of 19 runners to finish second on Prairie Bayou, he will be aboard a front-runner today, the favorite, Holy Bull.

Which style does he prefer?

"Either one, as long as they get me there first," he said.

There are 15 runners in today's Derby, and Holy Bull is regarded as the quickest. But the Derby is a race that accentuates staying power, the first time 3-year-olds are asked to run as far as one and one-quarter miles. There are many skeptics who doubt Holy Bull has the stamina for such a long trip.

In addition, it has been 15 years since a favorite, Spectacular Bid in 1979, won the Derby.

But none of this deters the congenial, low-key Smith, who is still level-headedand accessible as he was as the 16-year-old apprentice in Santa Fe. Yesterday, he took time between races at Churchill Downs to talk to a half-dozen print and TV reporters, tape a segment for an ABC children's show and do a live radio feed for Thoroughbred Racing Communications.

"This horse not only covers a lot of ground, he floats over it," Smith said. "I just sit very still, because every move I make he feels it. It's just so natural for him. He's game and he'll come back again if he is passed by another horse."

Another element -- mud -- entered the Derby handicapping equation yesterday. Rain started to fall about noon at Churchill Downs and there is a 90-percent chance of rain today.

There are five horses in the Derby who have won on wet tracks -- Holy Bull, Soul Of The Matter, Tabasco Cat, Go For Gin and Ulises.

Brocco, the second choice, has also demonstrated he can handle an off track, finishing second in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park in the mud. His trainer, Randy Winick, thinks he'll "run as well in the mud as he does on a fast track."

Burt Bacharach, Soul Of The Matter's owner, said the likelihood of a wet track definitely helps his horse, who has small feet and wears a quarter crack patch on his left-front hoof.

"It helps his feet although there are different types of mud," Bacharach said. "But there are also going to be horses in here that will not like it at all and they will eliminate themselves."

A third of the field -- Mahogany Hall, Strodes Creek, Smilin Singin Sam, Meadow Flight and Kandaly -- has raced only on dry surfaces.

Jimmy Croll, trainer/owner of Holy Bull, said the only difference it should make for his colt is that "it just means I'll change his shoes and put on stickers."

There are eight jockeys, four trainers and two sets of owners trying for a Derby repeat.

Jockeys in today's field who have previously won the race are Eddie Delahoussaye (1982-83), Laffit Pincay Jr. (1984), Chris McCarron (1987), Gary Stevens (1988), Craig Perret (1990), Chris Antley (1991), Pat Day (1992) and Jerry Bailey (1993).

Previous winning trainers represented are Charlie Whittingham (1986, 1989), Jack Van Berg (1987), D. Wayne Lukas (1988) and Nick Zito (1991). Among the owners are William Condren and Joe Cornacchia, who start Go For Gin today and previously won in 1991 with Strike the Gold; and Arthur Hancock III, who owned parts of former winners Gato Del Sol (1982) and Sunday Silence (1989).

Smith said the only nervousness he feels is "excitement. And that's a good kind of nervousness. The energy I get from that helps my riding."

He carries no good luck charms, although he did say he will "say a little prayer" before the band plays "My Old Kentucky Home."

RACE DATA

KENTUCKY DERBY 120

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

When: Today, 5:32 p.m. post.

TV: Chs. 13, 7 (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)

Weather: Periods of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 60s. Chance of rain 90 percent.

Area betting outlets: The race will be simulcast at Pimlico and Laurel race courses, Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs as well as off-track betting outlets in Urbana, Elkton, Cambridge and Colonial Beach, Va.

POST POSITIONS

PP .. .. .. ..Horse .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Odds

1 .. .. ..Soul of the Matter .. .. .. ..8-1

2 .. .. ..Valiant Nature .. .. .. .. ...8-1

3 .. .. ..Powis Castle .. .. .. .. .. .20-1

4 .. .. ..Holy Bull .. .. .. .. .. .. ..8-5

5 .. .. ..Ulises .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .50-1

6 .. .. ..Mahogany Hall .. .. .. .. ...25-1

7 .. .. ..Strodes Creek .. .. .. .. ...12-1

8 .. .. ..Go for Gin .. .. .. .. .. ...15-1

9 .. .. ..Tabasco Cat .. .. .. .. .. ...5-1

10 .. .. .Brocco .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..4-1

11 .. .. .Smilin Singin Sam .. .. .. ..35-1

12 .. .. .Southern Rhythm .. .. .. .. .10-1

13 .. .. .Blumin Affair .. .. .. .. ...20-1

14 .. .. .Meadow Flight .. .. .. .. ...50-1

15 .. .. .Kandaly .. .. .. .. .. .. ...18-1

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