Smith Out to Conquer the ‘World’ With Arrogate

By Joe Bianca/Thoroughbred Daily News on 03/03/2017 7:59 AM

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In May of 2005, Mike Smith piloted a gray colt by one of his beloved former mounts to a 50-1 upset in the GI Kentucky Derby. Giacomo (Holy Bull) represented the jockey’s first career win in the Run for the Roses, and it should have been the springboard to new heights of success for the New Mexico native. Instead, the Derby score was an outlier during the toughest period for Smith’s business since he left Canterbury Downs to ride on racing’s biggest stages in 1989.

“I more or less did it to myself,” Smith said of the lull in his career. “I thought, ‘well I’ll just hang out in Kentucky for a little bit,’ and thought I’d ease my way back east for a little while.”

Smith, who moved to California in 2000 after riding in New York for the better part of a decade, returned to the Big Apple and rode just 81 winners in 2005, a total that was tied for 250th in the country.

It was a conversation with Giacomo’s co-owner, Jerry Moss, that got Smith’s career back on a fast track.

“I was given the opportunity to come back and ride a horse in California and in doing so, I went out to dinner that night with John Shirreffs and Mr. Moss,” Smith recalled. “Mr. Moss said, ‘What are you doing out there? Why don’t you just come back and ride all my horses?’ That was my opportunity. I literally went home, I packed, and I was back in California two days later. Then things just took off. I got back in town, put my nose to the grindstone and have kept it there ever since.”

Smith officially staked his return to racing’s upper echelon with another Moss charge, four-time Eclipse Award winner Zenyatta (Street Cry {Ire}), and he has been the regular rider of fellow champions Shared Belief (Candy Ride {Arg}) and Songbird (Medaglia d’Oro) in recent years. But it’s his partnership with another gray colt by another one of his beloved former mounts that has the potential to take the 51-year-old Smith’s career to its highest altitude yet.

Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), a $560,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Juddmonte Farms, missed all of his 2-year-old season, but captured three of his first four starts as a sophomore, signaling considerable promise in each performance. Largely untested in his wins, however, he entered the Aug. 27 GI Travers S. as an unknown commodity. That could explain why Rafael Bejarano, who was in the irons for all three of Arrogate’s victories, opted to ride trainer Bob Baffert’s other entry in the race, the more established stakes winner American Freedom (Pulpit). Smith, who was already at Saratoga that day to ride Baffert trainee Drefong (Gio Ponti) in the GI King’s Bishop S., gladly took the pickup mount.

A breathtaking 13 1/2-length romp in a track record 1:59.36 later, Smith knew he had struck gold.

“I remember looking over at the [big screen] and thinking, ‘Oh man! Did he just open up by that many, that quickly?’” Smith said. “Then I saw that the time was under two minutes and I was floored. And I still thought that we had room to grow.”

That thought proved correct. Arrogate followed up his Travers romp by besting Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5. Then, a week after being crowned Champion Three-Year-Old Male for 2016, he scored another devastating, track record-setting victory in the inaugural running of the $12 million GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational January 28 at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s incredible,” Smith exclaimed. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on this kind of horse, with the speed and stamina that he has. It’s jaw-dropping. On top of all that, I don’t think we’ve gotten to see how good he really is yet, which is crazy. In seven starts, he’s already done things that the greats haven’t done.”

Equally impressive to Smith as Arrogate’s stratospheric talent level is how unflappable and easy-going the colt is.

“What’s great about him is his mannerisms,” Smith relayed. “He’s a big old laid back dude. He doesn’t know how special he is and he really doesn’t care. He just goes out and does his job and is just happy to get a carrot when he gets back to the barn. He’s not a diva, doesn’t need all kinds of stuff, he’s just a cool, laid back horse who’s just happy to hang out.”

Earlier this week, it was announced that Arrogate would ship to the United Arab Emirates to run in the March 25 $10 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup. The 2,000-meter test is one of the few prestigious dirt races that Smith has yet to land.

“Without a doubt,” Smith said when asked if he’s motivated by checking off the World Cup box on his resume. “It was so exciting to hear that news. I’m still jumping around just for the opportunity. He’s going have to go there and run his race, but I think he should run huge, especially with that long old lane.”

Smith and agent Brad Pegram are very selective about his mounts these days, taking just 33 assignments thus far in 2017. Yet he ranks far and away as the leading money-earner, thanks to Arrogate’s Pegasus heroics.

“I’ve been very blessed,” Smith said. “We’re having a whole lot of fun. I tell you, I don’t know if I’ve ever had this much fun.”

The fun may just be beginning. And the long, winding road from Holy Bull to Unbridled’s Song to Giacomo to Arrogate has returned Smith to the pinnacle of his profession. It’s likely to be a while before he comes back down.

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