The bond jockey Mike Smith has with the brilliant 2-year-old filly Tamara extends beyond the two times he has ridden her in a race.
Set to run in the Nov. 3 $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), the dazzling Bolt d’Oro filly figures to be one of the shortest favorites among the 14 Breeders’ Cup stakes at Santa Anita Park off her two wins by a combined margin of nine lengths.
The capper was a 6 3/4-length score in the Del Mar Debutante (G1).
“She’s been ultra-impressive. If she goes out there and runs like I know she can it will be something to see,” Smith said. “She’s been way above average.”
Yet even before the Spendthrift Farm homebred broke from the starting gate for the first time, there was a buzz about trainer Richard Mandella’s juvenile filly.
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That typically happens when your dam is a four-time champion, three-time Breeders’ Cup winner, and a Hall of Famer along the lines pf Beholder, who Smith knew quite well.
Smith had the pleasure of riding Beholder once in her 26 starts, winning the 2015 Zenyatta Stakes (G1). But for the most part, he, along with numerous other top jockeys of that era, remembers the sinking feeling of numerous losses to her, especially in one of the best Breeders’ Cup races of all.
In the 2016 BC Distaff (G1), Gary Stevens on Beholder and Smith on Songbird staged an electrifying stretch duel at Santa Anita that Beholder won by an inch in a finish so close that some conspiracy theorists still dispute it.
“Even though we came out on the losing end, it didn’t feel like there was a loser that day between the two of them. They both ran incredible races and we just didn’t put our nose on the wire at the right time,” Smith said.
On Friday, as fate would have it, Smith will be aboard Tamara, Beholder’s fourth foal and first grade 1 winner, as he tries to add one more victory to his record total of 27 Breeders’ Cup wins.
He was also scheduled to ride grade 1 winner Geaux Rocket Ride in the BC Classic (G1) but the 3-year-old sustained a serious injury Oct. 28, with Smith gallantly pulling him up and cradling his fractured leg until medical personnel arrived. Geaux Rocket Ride was euthanized Nov. 1.
“It was all so very sad,” he said.
Yet even if he will have more free time at the Breeders’ Cup than in his prime years, his pride in being the gold standard among jockeys at the Breeders’ Cup remains as strong as ever.
“I take a whole lot of pride in the Breeders’ Cup races I’ve won. They are very, very big races to win and they usually crown a champion,” Smith said.
Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman’s Speed Boat Beach has raced only once this year, but was second by just a head in the Sept. 30 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2).
“He’s quick and there’s not a lot of speed (in the Sprint) this year,” Smith said. “He can be in front and we just have to hold them off.”
The Sprint will be the last Breeders’ Cup race during the 40th edition of the World Championships and will also serve as Smith’s last chance in 2023 to pad his record total of wins in the series.
John Velazquez, who is soon to turn 52, is second with 19 wins, but with 31-year-old Irad Ortiz Jr., a four-time Eclipse Award winner, having 17, Smith knows an extra win or two can come in handy.
It’s an honor to be the all-time win leader,” he said, “and I hope to retire with that distinction. So, I’d like to add to that total.”