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May 04, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Smith carries seven-year Derby itch

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has been waiting seven years for the right horse to take him back to the winner's circle after riding in a Kentucky Derby. In 2005, Giacomo took the veteran rider home first for Smith's only win in the Run for the Roses.

This year for the 138th Kentucky Derby, Smith comes into the race with Bodemeister, winner of the Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths over stablemate Secret Circle.

"A lot of horses, like Holy Bull, just didn't handle that track that day for whatever reason," Smith said this week. "And then you look at a horse like Giacomo who just skipped over it like a little deer, absolutely loved it, so you just kind of hope that he takes to it, and if he does that then he gets his opportunity. I mean he can run extremely well."

Trained by Bob Baffert, Bodemeister could very well go off as the favorite on the first Saturday in May. However, being the favorite is no guarantee that the 3-year-old wins.

Smith was aboard Holy Bull for the 1994 Run for the Roses. The colt was the 2-1 favorite in a 14-horse field, but only managed to beat two horses. The following year, Smith was aboard 4-1 second-choice Talkin Man, who finished 12th in a 19-horse field.

Bodemeister is a speed horse that took the lead early in the Arkansas Derby and never looked back.

"He's naturally quick. Get him out of there good and, you know, after that, of course, try and get him relaxed and then go from there," Smith said about his Derby mount. "He impressed me a whole lot more that I already kind of was of him. I've seen him before. I've watched him train, but that last eighth of a mile was pretty impressive."

The interesting thing about the Arkansas Derby, it was the first time Smith ever rode Bodemeister in a race. The two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey had previously taken the mount for the Run for the Roses on Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best.

Smith knows about speed in the Kentucky Derby. In 2002, he was aboard Proud Citizen, who raced second the entire 1 1/4 miles behind War Emblem, the wire- to-wire winner who also was trained by Baffert.

"The main concern is the fractions, you certainly don't want to go too, too quick. Otherwise, you know, it takes a toll on you towards the end, but it's just a very naturally quick horse," Smith said concerning the speed of Bodemeister. "A very, very gifted and we'll be, you know, looking forward to place. That's just the way it is. So my main concern is to get him relaxed, get him in a rhythm, and go from there."

Smith entered the Hall of Fame in 2003 and is the winner of more than 5,000 races with earnings of better than $225 million. But still, he has the desire for another Kentucky Derby victory.

"Everyone wants it, but man, once you get a taste of it, man, you want it even more," Smith said.

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