Mike Smith was three shy of career win No. 5,000 at the start of Saturday's races. The major milestone would hold even more significance should it come aboard Midnight Transfer in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby next Saturday.
Smith picked up the mount on the San Pedro Stakes winner through the misfortune of fellow rider Victor Espinoza, who had ridden Midnight Transfer to a third-place finish in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 10 and had been given the call for the Santa Anita Derby by trainer Carla Gaines.
But when Espinoza suffered a hairline fracture to his left hand in a racing mishap last Friday, agent Brad Pegram, who represents both Smith and Espinoza, was able to book Smith on Midnight Transfer.
“It was a good fit,” Gaines said of the move to Smith.
Smith was aboard Midnight Transfer for the first time Friday morning when he worked the son of Hard Spun six furlongs on Santa Anita's main track in a bullet 1:11.80, fastest of 15 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 1:13.74.
“It was my first time on him and it was good to have that experience,” said the 46-year-old Smith, a member of racing's Hall of Fame who won the Kentucky Derby in 2005 on 50-1 shot Giacomo, and whose name is indelibly etched in racing annals as the regular rider of 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta.
“Midnight Transfer has a nice quick, little turn of foot, and it was nice to feel it,” Smith said. “Now I know how to gauge him a little.
“I thought he was brilliant. I probably hit the front with the company I was working with a bit too soon; he tends to wait a little, so I wish I'd have waited a little more. I'd have had more of a gallop out, but other than that, he went great. It's better to have that experience now rather than in the race. I'm really happy with the work.”
In other Santa Anita Derby news:
Mike Harrington plans to give favored Creative Cause a four furlong blowout Tuesday at his Hollywood Park headquarters in the colt's final major drill for the 1 1/8-mile race. The trainer added that Creative Cause is right on schedule.
Added Joel Rosario, who rides the gray son of Giant's Causeway: “He's fun to ride and he's doing really well right now. We've got a big race coming up and we'll see how he runs.”
At Hollywood Saturday, Senor Rain worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 for Peter Miller.
Probable for the Santa Anita Derby: Brother Francis, Garrett Gomez; Blueskiesnrainbows; Baby Blake; Creative Cause, Joel Rosario; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano; Midnight Transfer, Mike Smith; I'll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez; Longview Drive; Paynter; and Senor Rain.
Also on Santa Anita Derby Day, there will be a $750,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4.
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