Mike Smith appears to be in the enviable position of riding favored Justify in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, in addition to second choice Midnight Bisou in Friday's Kentucky Oaks.
But with chalk winning nationally at about 30 percent, that leaves a 70 percent chance for an upset. Either way, the cool and collected Smith, a member of racing's Hall of Fame since 2003, hopes to go from one extreme to another when the gates open in the Run for Roses.
“The Derby is a tough race,” said Smith at Santa Anita last Sunday before the draw for the 144th edition was taken on Tuesday. “Longshots do win it, so you never know what's going to happen on that day.”
Smith speaks from first-hand experience. He piloted rank outsider Giacomo to victory at 50-1 in 2005 for his first and only Kentucky Derby triumph to date. However, there is a noteworthy counter streak currently underway, as the last six Derby betting favorites have won.
“In order to win, a lot of things have to go right, but I truly believe I've got a horse with that kind of talent, and we're just praying the opportunities come our way,” Smith said, speaking of undefeated Santa Anita Derby winner Justify.
“It's important that both horses get their trips and the chance to showcase their ability, but they're both ready to run.
“They have to be happy, healthy and sound,” Smith said. “Given that, both my mounts are very, very special.”
Smith, who turns 53 on Aug. 10, is represented by agent Brad Pegram, also calling the shots for 23-year-old Drayden Van Dyke, rider of Instilled Regard for Jerry Hollendorfer in Saturday's first leg of the Triple Crown. Both Van Dyke and Smith rank among the nation's leaders in purse earnings through April 29 with $3,276,153 and $3,237,860, respectively.
Smith was forthcoming in imparting his knowledge to his young cohort, providing advice upon request.
“This is Drayden's first Derby and he's probably very happy and very excited,” Smith allowed. “I know I was. This is what every jockey dreams of.”
The field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby, with a scheduled post time of 3:50 p.m. Pacific Time: Firenze Fire, Paco Lopez, 50-1; Free Drop Billy, Robby Albarado, 30-1; Promises Fulfilled, Corey Lanerie, 30-1; Audible, Javier Castellano, 8-1; Good Magic, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; Justify, Mike Smith, 3-1; Lone Sailor, James Graham, 50-1; Hofburg, Irad Ortiz Jr., 20-1; My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1; Bolt d'Oro, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Enticed, Junior Alvarado, 30-1; Bravazo, Luis Contreras, 50-1; Mendelssohn, Ryan Moore, 5-1; Instilled Regard, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1; Magnum Moon, Luis Saez, 6-1; Solomini, Flavien Prat, 30-1; Vino Rosso, John Velazquez, 12-1; Noble Indy, Florent Geroux, 30-1; and Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr., 50-1.
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