UPDATE! WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SAUDI CUP…
By Jon Lees
USA: Mike Smith is preparing for a return visit to the Saudi Cup to ride Charlatan – and he is hoping his second appearance at the event will inspire rather less controversy than the first.
Smith steered Midnight Bisou into second place behind Maximum Security in the inaugural edition of the world’s richest horse race 12 months ago.
But amid a controversial aftermath to the $20 million contest, 55-year-old Smith was hit with a nine-day suspension for breaching whip rules and also forfeited 60 per cent of his share of second prize-money, an estimated $210,000, for the frequency of the blows.
An appeal against a punishment he branded at the time as “the biggest penalty against a jockey in the history of horse racing”, plus another two-day ban for failing to weigh in after another race, was dismissed.
Then to cap off his misfortune he was stripped of his victory in the International Jockeys Challenge on Friday after one of his mounts tested positive for a banned substance.
However, Smith insists there will be no hard feelings when he returns to Riyadh on February 19 and 20.
“I thought it was a great meet,” Smith said. “What happened, happened. I certainly made my mistakes and had to pay for it. The fines and the penalties are pretty steep but they are what they are.
“They have rules,” he went on. “They certainly explained them to us beforehand and I went over the limit. I had to pay what I had to pay.
“There were a couple of other things. I also got disqualified for not passing the scales when they told me to go one way so it was a bit rough for me. I wound up winning the jockey challenge and then I got taken down on one of those and wind up losing that.”
Smith added: “A lot of stuff happened but I have to tell you, I loved the track, I loved both nights. They were great nights – other than me making my mistakes!”
In a potential irony, Smith could yet become the winner of the 2020 Saudi Cup as Maximum Security’s victory is still the subject of a Saudi investigation after his trainer Jason Servis was charged in the US with doping offences.
But for now the jockey known as ‘Big Money Mike’ is focussed on landing this year’s prize with ante-post favourite Charlatan, the Bob Baffert-trained four-year-old whose one blemish came in the Arkansas Derby, from which he was disqualified from first place for a medical violation which is being appealed.
“Charlatan’s record speaks for itself,” said Smith. “He is a special kind of horse. If you have the opportunity to watch the Malibu … after a long layoff, Bob didn’t think he had him at his best and to still perform the way he did was pretty impressive.
“I am really excited about having the opportunity to ride him in a race like the Saudi Cup. The horse breezed the other day and breezed really well, so all is good.”
Subject to a positive workout over the weekend, Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go looks set to Charlatan’s principal rival in Riyadh.
“Knicks Go is a really nice horse so he will be one of the ones to beat but I certainly wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” said Smith.
Since returning from Saudi Arabia, Smith has had to come to terms with the introduction of whip limits for racing in his home state of California. “At the time we didn’t have a whip-count rule in the United States,” he explained. “Of course, we have now so we have all gotten used to it.”
Looking back on Midnight Bisou, Smith reflected: “I’ve been riding 38 years one way and all of a sudden one night you’ve got to change, and you are going for that kind of money. My mare was really not focussing 100 per cent that night because she was looking at the car with all the cameras on it and leaning out a bit.
“I was trying to get her to focus and to finish because I had a shot of winning. You forget. They did explain it to us beforehand and I went over plain and simple.
“But for Saudi to put on that kind of money is incredible. You can’t help but enjoy it – it was a fun night, other than getting fined.”
Saudi Cup odds (Ladbrokes): 5-4 Charlatan, 7-2 Knicks Go, 7 Tacitus, 8 Mishriff, 10 Military Law, 14 Chuwa Wizard, 16 Global Giant, Max Player, 20 Sleepy Eyes Todd, 25 bar
• Visit the Saudi Cup website