According to Mike Smith

January, 14, 2010
The tension is mounting this week in California, where Monday's Eclipse Award ceremony will reveal one Horse of the Year -- Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta. Today I checked in with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to get his thoughts on the nerve-wracking battle. Because of his position as the regular rider for Zenyatta, Mike has been interviewed quite a bit by the racing media -- so I asked him to relive some old memories of his first days aboard the big mare before building his case for Zenyatta as Horse of the Year. Here's what he had to say:

Well, she was mine to start with. I'd worked her in the mornings and everyone knew she was going to be something special, and of course I was looking forward to being a part of that. Around that time I was riding a horse named Tessa Blue for Frankie Brothers; I won the Indiana Oaks on her and came back and won a race on Breeders' Cup Friday in the slop at Monmouth by 12 lengths. Anyhow, we were back in California and John decided to run Zenyatta in this maiden race and we didn't think she was going to run short the first time out because she's such a big giant mare. Well, I was supposed to ride Tessa Blue at Churchill in the Fall City Handicap there, she was one of the favorites, and John Shirreffs said "No big deal, she's gonna need a race anyways, if she gets beat you'll get her back."

She didn't get beat, but Tessa Blue did. She stumbled leaving the gate and didn't get an easy lead and later I was sitting in my hotel, the Executive West in Louisville, watching TVG, thinking to myself, Ah, I'm gonna watch Zenyatta run, I think she'll put on a good show, I hope she comes running. Of course she did and I was like, aw, heck, no, holy cow, man! I can't believe I missed that!

I landed late that night in California and got up early the next morning and went straight to the barn.

Well, John said, "David did a good job with her. I said you'd get her back if she lost." Of course I wasn't happy about that, and then she ran again and won again and then I was really upset.

It all worked out when they were going to send Tiago down to run in the Oaklawn Handicap and John said, "I'm thinking of sending Zenyatta there for the Apple Blossom,' but David had to stay in California to ride Gato Malo." John said "It's the same situation, you stay on her if you don't get beat."

So the Apple Blossom was my first time riding her and she just annihilated them that day, and she's never been beat and so I've stayed on her.

Now I'll tell you what makes this year's Eclipse Awards ceremony even more nail-biting than it already is -- as far as I'm concerned, she should be going for two-time Horse of the Year. I thought she was denied last year, when they gave it to Curlin after he didn't win the Breeders' Cup Classic and the excuse then was that they were judging the body of his work. In that case, let's look at a mare who is undefeated. Not to take anything away from Rachel Alexandra, I think she's amazing, but we beat the best of the best and they made the Breeders' Cup to determine champions. And that's not all. We knocked them out all year; she's never let anyone down. I could talk 'till I'm blue in the face but in my opinion she's horse of the decade, two-time horse of the year, and I love her to death. She's an experience; the show is on from the time she walks into the paddock until the time she gets into the gate and then winning every time after she always spots the field one or two lengths.

As far as if she'll win, it's tough to say. You hear all this back and forth talk rolling one way and the other way but I'm just going to sit there and enjoy the night. If we're blessed enough to win I'll be so excited, but in my heart I know what she's done for racing and any of the people who really watched her campaign this year know it too.



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