Will Ride G1 Winner Roadster in $100,000 Polynesian
LAUREL, MD – His Hall of Fame career has taken jockey Mike Smith quite literally around the world. His next stop – and first in more than 14 ½ years – brings the affable 56-year-old to Laurel Park.
Based in California since 2000, Smith will be in town Saturday with three mounts on the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) program led by Grade 1 winner Roadster in the $100,000 Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up.
Smith is also named on 4-year-old filly So Darn Hot in the $100,000 Twixt for females 3 and up, like the Polynesian contested at one mile, and 2-year-old filly Tiger to Remember, a second-time starter that is third on the also-eligible list in Race 7, a one-mile maiden special weight scheduled for the Bowl Game turf course.
According to Equibase statistics, it will be Smith’s first time at Laurel since winning the Barbara Fritchie Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2) Feb. 17, 2007 with Oprah Winney. A career winner of 5,623 races and more than $336 million in purse earnings, Smith owns a 32-6-6-4 lifetime record at Laurel with $823,190 in purses earned.
“The first time I ever rode at Laurel I won the  Barbara Fritchie on a filly named Amy Be Good for [trainer] Timmy Kelly. That was probably the first time I ever went to Laurel,” Smith said. “It was a long time ago. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I haven’t been there in so many years, it’s crazy. I’m glad to be heading back.”
Smith is no stranger to Maryland, having ridden in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at historic Pimlico Race Course 19 times since 1984 with two wins – Prairie Bayou (1993) and Triple Crown champion Justify (2018). He has also run second twice and third four times, and in May finished ninth aboard Concert Tour.
“It’s always great to get to Maryland,” Smith said. “I wish I had more time. I’m actually going to land, go right to the track, ride and [head] right back out again. I always love to stay and hang out and have some dinner there if I can and get some crabcakes. I always have a good time.”
In addition to Laurel, Smith is looking forward to his reunion with Speedway Stables’ Roadster. The 5-year-old son of Quality Road has had Smith up for six of his 13 starts with three wins, two seconds and a third, highlighted by a half-length triumph in the 2019 Santa Anita Derby (G1) that earned him a trip to the Kentucky Derby (G1), where he ran 11th.
An impressive debut winner under Smith in July 2018, Roadster ran third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) in his only other start at 2. Smith and Roadster were also second in the 2019 Affirmed (G3) and third in the San Carlos (G3) last March at Santa Anita in their most recent start together.
“I’ve had a lot of back success with Roadster. He’s on his comeback trail, so I’m really excited about riding him,” Smith said. “We expected more out of him than what he’s shown, because the ability’s there. He’s shown it in some of his races and he’s shown it in the morning, we just haven’t been able to get him to do it on a consistent basis.
“He’s had his little setbacks and that’s kind of been his problem, these minor little setbacks that put him back just a little bit,” he added. “With time off now and making his comeback we’re going to see if we can get out of him what we know is in there.”
Bred by Stone Farm and purchased as a yearling for $525,000 by Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner of Speedway, Roadster will be making just his fifth start in the last three years and first since a fourth in the April 30 Alysheba (G2).
Trained for most of his career by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, he came back after more than a year between races to run fourth in the March 20 New Orleans Handicap (G2) for Mike Stidham, based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. He ran the Alysheba for Baffert before returning to Stidham’s care.
“First time I rode this colt, man, I thought a whole lot of him. I certainly thought he was a Derby horse, and he made it to the Derby,” Smith said. “He won the Santa Anita Derby but after that he kind of went backwards on us. Since then he’s shown some spark but I know what’s in there. I know what I felt before in the past.
“I’m just happy to get back on him and see if we can get him back to where I know he’s supposed to be, and that’s one of the top older horses in the country. He’s that kind of horse,” he added. “He’s shown us that already, so it’s not like we’re looking for something we haven’t seen. It’s just a matter of if we can get him back on track.”
Known as ‘Big Money Mike’ for his success in big races as part of a quality over quantity approach to riding the past several years, Smith has 18 wins from 132 mounts in 2021. Ten of those wins have come in graded-stakes including the Just a Game (G1) with Althiqa and Del Mar Futurity (G1) with Pinehurst. He also won the San Felipe (G2) and Sham (G3) with Life Is Good, Summertime Oaks (G2) and Delaware Oaks (G3) with Crazy Beautiful and Santa Maria (G2) and Santa Margarita (G2) with As Time Goes By.
“I’m doing well, man. I feel great. I keep myself in amazing shape. I started out the year extremely well and then they all kind of went by the wayside. They either were retired or got hurt or something happened,” Smith said. “So, were trying to rebuild. I’ve got a couple really good young 2-year-olds so I’m excited about those. And now, with Roadster coming back. Hopefully I stay on Life Is Good, as well. If I can get all those back, we’re back strong again.”
The 30th running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up highlights Saturday’s 11-race program, featuring defending champion Laki and recent Saratoga stakes winner Wondrwherecraigis, both based at Laurel, as well as Grade 1-placed Jalen Journey trying to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his fourth sprint stakes victory in Maryland this year.
Also on the card is the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting six furlongs led by multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful. All four stakes are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.
First race post time is 12:40 p.m.