To be honest, there is not much difference in ability between Hall of Famer Mike Smith and future Hall of Famer Joel Rosario.
Both are strong finishers, have an excellent sense of timing, horses always seem to run for them regardless of style and they can adapt to the horses they ride.
If one wanted to pick at nits, “Money Mike” sometimes tends to lose ground unnecessarily, while Joel is so-o-o-o patient that sometimes his confidence can leave his mounts with too much to do.
Their common strength is race-riding–and we’re not referring to stretch-herding tactics here. We’re talking pace. And maybe that’s what Bob Baffert was thinking when he decided to tap Rosario.
If fractions are too fast, tactics are easy choice for any competent rider: Let the speed burn itself out. But the great one are not afraid to adapt, make an unusual move, even if it takes a horse out of its best game.
When the trip you’re getting takes away your horse’s best chance to win, it’s better to do something than sit there and have your rivals dictate to you, sealing your fate.
Our personal preference is Rosario because we believe he has an edge in adaptability, seemingly taking charge of a situation before it becomes untenable.
While all riders communicate with their mounts through the reins, whether it be with strength or finesse–“soft hands”– Rosario’s hands, coupled with exquisite timing, sometimes produce magical results.
McKinzie is very talented and seems able to adapt to whatever dynamics are thrown his way. Frankly, we’re not sure what his best style is.
We think McKinzie probably needs to be in the race throughout, as he does not show the turn of foot of last-run late finishers.
We believe Rosario’s overall talent to get the most from his mounts will result in a wake-up call for McKinzie.
Any elite rider will play a race “off the break,” but that often requires instant decision-making. Rosario seems to do that a tad better, bringing out the best his mount has to offer.
As to which rider is better is a good question, but as Wayne Lukas likes to remind us from time to time, “the horses have the answer.”