October 31, 2020
Mike Smith © Benoit Photo
IN LIEU OF BREEDERS’ CUP, SMITH AIMS FOR DEL MAR SCORES
Mike Smith is the No. 1 jockey in Breeders’ Cup history for wins (26) and purse earnings ($36,634,605). His four victories in the fall championship event’s climactic race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, are only one behind Chris McCarron and Jerry Bailey for No. 1 in that category.
But when the 37th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships is staged next Friday and Saturday at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, the Hall of Fame rider will be plying his trade 2,158 miles away from there. Smith, 55, will be at Del Mar riding the second weekend of the Bing Crosby meeting which starts today.
“I’m staying. I don’t have any mounts so I’m sitting this one (Breeders’ Cup) out,” Smith said Friday by telephone when asked to ‘Say it ain’t so’ about his pending ‘Cup absence. Breeders’ Cup records show that Smith has only missed three editions since his first assignments in 1990.
Smith has 10 more wins than runner-up John Velazquez and his Cup earnings are nearly $10 million more than No. 2 Velazquez. His Classic victories came on Skip Away (1997), Zenyatta (2009), Drosselmeyer (2011) and Arrogate (2016).
But combine the travel restrictions, situations and circumstances of a COVID-19 2020 fraught with bad fortune for some of his outstanding mounts and, for this year, Smith’s ‘Cup has runneth dry.
Smith was the regular rider for 3-year-old Honor A.P., the Santa Anita Derby winner, 5-year-old mare Midnight Bisou, the champion older female of 2019 and 5-year-old McKinzie, runner-up in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic and winner of the 2020 Triple Bend at Santa Anita. All three were retired in the past few months.
“It’s kind of depressing,” Smith admits. “But I’m going to ride as much as I can at Del Mar and maybe pick up some business while the other guys are back there. Del Mar is such a short meeting, it’s important to get off to a good start and hopefully I’ll be able to kick it off well.”
Smith has two mounts scheduled on today’s program, Mister Bold in the eighth race for trainer Jeff Bonde and DuJour in the ninth for Bob Baffert. He has three for Sunday, Keystone Field (2nd race) and Pizzazz (6th) for Richard Mandella and Viazar (4th) for Patrick Gallagher.
JOCKEY J.C. DIAZ TESTS POSITIVE; WILL ISOLATE PER COVID PROTOCOLS
Jockey Jean (J.C.) Diaz, Jr. has tested positive for the coronavirus but is asymptomatic and began self isolation at his Los Angeles area apartment Friday.
As part of Del Mar’s protocols and procedures for dealing with the pandemic, all jockeys’ room riders and personnel were tested in San Diego this week on either Wednesday or Thursday at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla. Before he came on site at Del Mar, Diaz was notified Friday morning that his test of a day earlier had been positive for the virus.
If Diaz remains asymptomatic – that is showing no signs of the virus – by the end of the isolation period, he could return to riding on Friday, November 13. Diaz, a 20-year-old native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, will miss the first two weekends of the Bing Crosby meeting.
“I take my hat off to Del Mar and all the people involved,” said Tony Matos, Diaz’s agent. Matos has been booking mounts for riders since 1966 and lists Hall of Famers Angel Cordero and Laffit Pincay, Jr. among his former clients.
“Just like at Santa Anita, Del Mar is doing a great job with testing and procedures,” Matos said. “We all want to follow the rules and do whatever we can to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
HESS’S FLORIDA-BRED LURE HIM IN COULD LOOMS AS X-FACTOR IN LET IT RIDE
In the field of 10 for Sunday’s $75,000 Let It Ride Stakes, a one-mile test for 3-year-olds on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course, there are nine with past performance charts heavily weighted with efforts at California tracks.
And then there’s Lure Him In.
Owned by David Bernsen and partners, trained by Bob Hess, Jr., the gelded son of Khozan has four wins from nine career starts, all at Gulfstream Park in Florida and will be making his West Coast debut.
Claimed for $40,000 from a win at a mile on turf there on July 31, Lure Him In finished second in the $75,000 Bears Den overnight stakes at Gulfstream on September 5 and made his way from Florida to Santa Anita via Kentucky, training at stops along the way, last month.
“He’s doing super, we’re really pleased with how he looks,” Hess said this morning by phone. Hess is in Kentucky, where he’s overseeing preparations for Lasting Legacy, a possibility for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint. “The owners are from California and like to have their horses run at Del Mar, so we brought him out. I’m ecstatic the horses are there. I’ll be there on the eighth (of November).”
Hess said that the Let It Ride, while offering the same purse amount as the Bears Den, would represent a “slightly higher” level of competition.”
The field from the rail with jockeys and morning line odds in parenthesis: Goalie (Juan Hernandez, 12-1); Lane Way (Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1); Strongconstitution (Abel Cedillo, 4-1); Rookie Mistake (Mario Gutierrez, 12-1); Heywoods Beach (Umberto Rispoli, 7-2); Dominant Soul (Edwin Maldonado, 8-1); Margot’s Boy (Tiago Pereira, 3-1); I’m Leaving You (Victor Espinoza, 30-1); Lure Him In (Tyler Baze, 12-1), and Jammers Justice (Eswan Flores, 15-1).
CLOSERS – A note from oddsmaker Jon White: “Keystone Field and Direct Line are half-brothers entered right next to each other in Sunday’s second race. Their dam is the stakes-winning In Excess mare She’s an Eleven. Richard Mandella trains Keystone Field, a son of 2003 TVG Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride. Direct Line, trained by Peter Eurton, is by 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map” … Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg will be out to break his maiden in his fourth career start in Sunday’s first race. The son of Union Rags, a $1 million purchase at the Keeneland September sale in 2019, has run second in a maiden special here on August 8, second in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on September 7 and third in the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita on September 26 … Selected works from Del Mar-connected horses as final preparations for the Breeders’ Cup this morning at Keeneland: Lady Prancelot (4f, :49.20); Harvest Moon (5f, 1:01.00); Higher Power (5f, :58.80); Madone (5f, 1:01.40); Ollie’s Candy (6f, 1:11.00) … Tonight there will be a blue moon (two full moons in one month) in the sky. It’s also the night when you need to turn your clock back an hour to adjust to standard time. Spring forward, fall back.