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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The recent high-visibility removal of jockey Mike Smith from the mount on likely BC Classic favorite McKinzie has fueled speculation among the bored and restless.

LOS ANGELES—Is it possible the driving force behind that decision was Mike Pegram, whose McDonald franchises make possible his purchases in partnership of high-performance horseflesh like McKinzie?

It does seem logical that “Big Mike” was not as willing to write-off the loss of another Grade I stakes race as “Little Mike” who had remarked:

<i>”We lost the battle, but this ain’t the war. Hopefully we’ll come back and be ready.”</i>

Hmmmm. I’d bet Bob Baffert thought he was ready, and maybe this was the final straw for the trainer as well, given that this was McKinzie’s fourth second-place finish as the favorite in his last six races. He appeared to be best in at least two of those defeats.

Right horse, wrong jock?

Of course, negative patterns don’t seem to get noticed as quickly with regard to Mr. Baffert’s operation. Another such example was the string of seven sudden equine deaths that occurred in his Hollywood Park barn. Environmental contamination was the dubious explanation.

So now Smith has some idea how David Flores, Martin Garcia, Victor Espinoza and others felt when they fell from grace as Baffert’s go-to guys.

<i>“I’m still going to use Mike on horses,” Baffert explained. “But for the Classic, I’m going to make a change. I let Mike know now because I want to give him a chance to get something else.”</i>

Indeed, Smith can be expected to continue riding a lot of horses for a lot of top trainers, but probably not as many odds-on stakes favorites.

As it turns out, however, the racing gods rewarded Smith upon the return of a very healthy, extremely talented Omaha Beach on OCT 5.

As for McKinzie, it will be interesting to see if the hamburger magnate and his partners decide to send their star to compete in the announced extravaganza in Saudi Arabia.


The latest score from the Santa Anita Coliseum is PETA 32, TSG O. The media loves it. Who says racing can’t produce ratings?

Foal crops may be down, but horse racing reform advocates are on the rise. Recent articles by racing insiders like Arthur Hancock and Charles Hayward recently reiterated the calls by others for complete, cooperative, and compulsory data collection and analysis on breakdowns. Thus far, the only progress has been more hand-wringing.

The people who want legitimate and meaningful reform need to identify the people proven capable of defining, structuring and implementing it.

They must fund and develop an organization that can accommodate transitions to subsequent stages as early and as often as necessary; a body that can establish acceptable and effective criteria for locating, attracting, recognizing and inserting the most qualified men and women for each stage of the process.

Of course, there will be some overlap between the initial planning and final operational stages but the key is bringing skills to bear when they are most needed to accomplish each component’s objective.

Federal assistance and accountability is the only way to clean up the game, but everything needs to be laid out beforehand to establish what “clean” really means and how to keep it that way.

Some will do it for love, and some for money or fame. But shouldn’t racing’s fans and gamblers be instrumental in bringing forth a new day in Thoroughbred racing, one which is even more entertaining and popular than it was when they first got involved? Any thoughts out there?

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12 Responses

  1. Why is it a big deal when BB takes Money Mike off one of his big horses?

    What about when Smith told BB he had to get someone else for Eclipse champion Game Winner because he was riding Omaha Beach in the Derby. Maybe BB saw it coming that Smith could make the same choice in the Breeders’ Cup.

    1. TJ,
      How often in your experience has a major trainer announced to the press he was taking a jock OFF a mount, especially so far in advance?

  2. It’s difficult to make informed comments about what Bob Baffert & Co. decides as to what jockeys and what horses since we don’t know all the facts and neither do the people that report this stuff. Smith recently got married and it’s possible that his new station in life is interfering with his job but we’ll never know. There’s all sorts of dynamics playing in these decisions so we’re left to speculate since we simply don’t know. It’s not like Smith is out in the cold and neither is Baffert. They’ll both survive beautifully.

    1. CC,
      Thanks for the tip that Money Mike is now Married Mike.

      If anyone else is interested, the wedding photos may be found below.
      (the actual link contains no spaces):
      https://www. /blog/ wedding-at-the-majestic-downtown-cynthia-mike/

      As captivating as the photogenic Mrs. Smith may be, I doubt she affected the outcome of the Awesome Again.

  3. Under the circumstances, Baffert was being considerate. As he said, the Breeders’ Cup is coming and he wanted to give the new groom a chance to pick up another quality mount, which he might have in Omaha Beach, should that one go in the Classic.

    1. If Smith had a previous commitment elsewhere for the Classic, why wouldn’t he have told Baffert who made it clear the decision was not Smith’s?

  4. I, because trainers decide who they want then jockeys accept or decline. I’m with TJ on this. No big deal, and it’s not like he took him off the entire barn–not that we know of anyway.

    Similarly, Todd and Johnny have helped to make each other’s careers over two decades and I’m sure Todd understands that if Johnny wanted to commit to Code of Honor, which he did, it’s just how that game is played.

    And, of course, y’all realize we’re talking about the plight of millionaires here, right?

    1. JP,
      Situations like those of 1) Pletcher, Velazquez, and Code of Honor (JCGC), and 2) Baffert, Smith, and Omaha Beach (Rebel, AD), are not all that unusual, and are among the few signs of sportsmanship remaining in the game.

      There is nothing unsportsmanlike about the McKinsie connections deciding to use a different rider in his next start. Indeed they are all millionaires unlikely to provoke tears of sadness or pity, but rather those of laughter at the irony involved.

  5. Top Turf Teddy – The Prince of Pace

    Indulto, baby, at times wish I could be more diplomatic, more personable, more of a people person, instead of the sumabish of the sod, but I’ve got too many friends as it is. Recall the year 1999, when the great filly Silverbulletday was 3 years old. “Bread and Butter” Bob Baffert was kissing Pegram’s hind quarters even way back then, and it was certainly not Bob’s decision to run Silverbulletday on Friday, instead of in the Derby, which she would have undoubtedly won. There is no way that Baffert would take Mike off any horse. Pegram was a fool for not running Silverbulletday in the Deby, and is a fool for taking Mike off. this horse. Mike Smith is an unbelievable jockey, and Baffert knows he won’t get a better ride from someone else. One thing that is in abundance in the racing game, especially in California, is stupidity and arrogance.

  6. Indeed, some sportsmanship does remain, although you see it more from old school-ers than young-bloods. I always think sport first, but if it were my money were on the table…

    Guess it just depends on where you sit. If you need it, take it; if you don’t, then consider how much better you could eat, count your blessings, and give back to the game that put you in this position in the first place.

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