- SMITH IS COUNTING DOWN TO BELMONT STAKES
- EURTON EYES IMPROVEMENT IN $200,000 MELAIR
- BAFFERT OPTS FOR A ‘PERFECT’ PACE SCENARIO
- ANNABELLE STUTE CELEBRATES 86TH BIRTHDAY
SMITH CONFIDENT AS BELMONT STAKES NEARS
Mike Smith is not one to count his chickens before they’re hatched, or his victories
before the race is official, for that matter.
But the 52-year-old riding great, a member of the Hall of Fame since 2003, realizes full well that undefeated Justify is heavily favored and thus expected to become history’s 13th Triple Crown winner when the Belmont Stakes is run for the 150th time a week from today on June 9.
But calm and collected as is his wont, he’s not about to become obsessed about it.
“At this point, there’s not much to think about,” Smith said when asked his views on the classic seven days hence. “You can think all day long, but they haven’t even drawn the race. After that, you start thinking about strategy and so on, but right now, thinking too much would just drive you nuts.
“You can’t help but daydream here and there, but on the whole, you just try to stay cool and calm. You just have one race to win, so really, you make it simple. You don’t try to think any harder than what you should.”
Winning the Preakness by what appeared to be a diminishing half-length, the smallest margin of victory in his five-race career, Justify has his doubters for the mile and a half Belmont, longest of the Triple Crown races by a quarter mile.
But despite the relatively narrow degree of success, Smith allowed as to how he hadn’t put the pedal fully to the metal on Justify in the Preakness.
“I’m sure the mile and a half is going to benefit some, and hurt some, too,” Smith said. “We won’t know until we do it. No one’s done it yet, so thinking about it now for no reason is meaningless. You’ve just got to go out there and see if they do it.
“It comes down to whether he’s going to handle it or he’s not . . . but he acts like he should. His energy level is good, it’s high, he’s galloping out very well from his last two races.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t handle it.”
INLAND EMPIRE BACK WHERE SHE LIKES TO BE SUNDAY
Inland Empire tries to successfully negotiate the longest distance of her brief career Sunday in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for three-year-old California-bred fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
Her last three races have been at a mile, the latter two on turf, but her breeding suggests she can get a distance (by the Empire Maker stallion Empire Way; Empire Maker won the 2003 Belmont Stakes).
“She prefers the dirt at Santa Anita (where she broke her maiden on a muddy track March 11),” said trainer Peter Eurton. “Her numbers were bad on the grass here, and I’m hoping the grass up north was a little soft for her (when she finished fifth in the Campanile at Golden Gate on April 29).
“She couldn’t accelerate and there was no pace in the race,” Eurton continued. “She kind of galloped along. She’s trained well here and I’d love to get some black (stakes) type, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Melair, race eight of nine: Spiced Perfection, Joe Talamo, 2-1; Inland Empire, Mike Smith, 12-1; Pulpit Rider, Corey Nakatani, 5-2; Coco Kisses, Gary Stevens, 12-1; Mo See Cal, Mario Gutierrez, 8-1; Loving Lynda, Geovanni Franco, 4-1; and One Fast Broad, Drayden Van Dyke, 7-2.
SOFTER PACE IN PLEASANTLY PERFECT WOULD AID PLEIN AIR
Hopeful of less pace pressure, Bob Baffert expects an improved performance from Plein Heir in Sunday’s $75,000 Possibly Perfect Stakes for fillies and mares, three and up, at a mile and a quarter on turf.
Plein Heir, a five-year-old Irish-bred mare, weakened to fifth after leading in the Grade III Santa Barbara at 1 ½ miles on turf April 28, when she dueled for the lead most of the way.
“She had a rabbit in there,” Baffert said. Plein Heir was her own rabbit in her U.S. debut on Jan. 14 when she led throughout the grassy mile and a half Astra Stakes under Tyler Baze, currently recovering from injuries and expected back on June 7.
Mike Smith rides Plein Heir Sunday.
The field: Pantsonfire, Kent Desormeaux, 3-1; Queen Blossom, Flavien Prat, 4-1; Evo Campo, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; Plein Heir, Mike Smith, 5-2; Barleysugar, Gary Stevens, 8-1; Dreamarcher, Drayden Van Dyke, 20-1; Night Time Inc, Corey Nakatani, 20-1; and Causeforcommotion, Geovanni Franco, 5-1.
FINISH LINES: Congratulations to Annabelle Stute, wife of retired trainer Mel Stute, on the occasion of her 86th birthday today. She was presented a large chocolate cake by well wishers at Clockers’ Corner, with son Gary Stute, a trainer in his own right, doing honors on the photo ops. Mel, trainer of 1986 Santa Anita Derby winner and three-year-old male Eclipse Award champion Snow Chief, will present the trophy to the winning connections of today’s Snow Chief Stakes . . . My Boy Jack, fifth in the Kentucky Derby, worked four furlongs at Santa Anita Saturday in 49.80. Trainer Keith Desormeaux has the Grade I Belmont Derby at 1 ¼ miles on turf July 7 ticketed for the three-year-old Creative Cause colt . . . Champion Abel Tasman and venerable millionaire Hoppertunity worked four furlongs in company in 49.80 as Bob Baffert looked on. The two are scheduled to run in the Ogden Phipps and Brooklyn, respectively, at Belmont Park next Saturday . . . El Camino Real Derby winner Paved worked five furlongs for Michael McCarthy with Gary Stevens up in 1:01 for the Grade II Honeymoon Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf next Saturday. In all, there were 189 recorded works at Santa Anita, 15 on the training track . . . Former NHL player and coach Ed Olczyk owns 9-5 morning favorite Competing trained by Baffert in today’s sixth race. Currently a horse racing and hockey analyst for NBC SportsNet, Olczyk will be in Washington, D.C., tonight where the Capitals host the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup finals. “I’ll be watching the race from the press box,” Olczyk said. (Should Competing win, TVG’s Kurt Hoover has been deputized to make a Winner’s Circle appearance) . . . Mario Gutierrez rides Reddam Racing’s Unencumbered in today’s Grade II Penn Mile for trainer Simon Callaghan at Penn National . . . Horseplayer Chris Adoo is Tom Quigley‘s guest Sunday, 11:20 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.
|SANTA ANITA STATISTICS|
|(Current Through Friday, June 1)|
|Drayden Van Dyke||88||16||13||13||18%||48%||$822,578|