Mike Smith, as is his wont, bonds with most horses he has ridden in a spectacular career going on four decades, but perhaps none more so than with Hard Not to Love, a “special needs” stakes winner who lost her left eye when kicked by another horse in a paddock accident as a youngster.
The 54-year-old Hall of Fame member has ridden the four-year-old daughter of Hard Spun twice, most recently in the Grade I La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita, guiding her from ninth and last to win by 2 ¼ lengths. Next up, Saturday's Grade II Santa Monica Stakes, also at seven furlongs.
“She's doing really well and I'm very excited about her,” Smith said, “especially when she runs long, even though she's already won going short (four wins in five career races, none longer than seven furlongs).
“I'm waiting for the two turns with her. I really think she's going to like it; I could be wrong, although we know seven-eighths should be no problem.”
Smith, working hand in hand with trainer John Shirreffs to alleviate the filly's uneasiness viewing the world only half as well as normally, is pleased with her development as she strives to become a more “typical” Thoroughbred.
“She's got one eye but she's learning every day to make adjustments and progress,” Smith said. “She has a bit of anxiety, but other than that, she's gotten more sure of herself, more confident and more trusting of people.”
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