DEL MAR, Calif. -- Experience prevailed in Sunday's "Battle of the Exes" at Del Mar between former fiancées Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland.
Smith, who grew up riding match races in his native New Mexico, rode the maiden claimer Joker Face to a relatively easy win by 2 1/4 lengths over Sutherland's mount, Parable, in the one-mile race. For Sutherland, 35, it was her first appearance in a match race.
Sent off favored, Joker Face ($3.20) was timed in 1:36.55. Smith rode confidently, but admitted that he had pre-race jitters.
"I did feel pressure," he said. "I was excited about this. I grew up doing this. I was on the best horse today. In a regular race, I don't know."
Smith guided Joker Face to the lead from the start, and raced off the rail on the first turn, while leading by a half-length.
"Her horse wasn't as quick as her leaving there," Smith said. "I took the race to her early."
Suthlerland guided Parable within a half-length of Joker Face with five furlongs remaining, but could get no closer.
"When I got to the backstretch, I caught up to him," Sutherland said. "He tried to open up. I thought I could be in trouble at the three-eighths pole. Mike rode a good race."
Joker Face extended his lead under Smith to a length with a half-mile remaining and by 3 1/2 lengths at the quarter pole. By then, the race was essentially over. Through the stretch, the result was not in doubt.
Joker Face, who was making his fifth start, returned with blood in his mouth. The stewards reported that Joker Face bit his tongue before the race, track officials said.
Smith, who turns 46 on Wednesday, went to the post with no instructions from trainer Peter Eurton. "I said, 'You're the boss,'" Eurton said. "He rode him like he didn't worry about [showing] speed."
The win was worth $18,600 to owner Marc Ferrell, and $6,200 for Swift Thoroughbreds, which owns Parable, who is winless in nine starts, all for trainer Carla Gaines. Both maidens were entered for a $40,000 claiming price.
Smith may have been favored but he felt public sentiment was with Sutherland. Furthermore, Smith knew that if he lost he would hear grief from fellow riders in the jockeys' room.
"I've been getting it for three or four days," he said. "I had some followers, but not that many people were rooting for me."