Smith Seeks 5th Travers Stakes Win on Chess Chief

(McKinzie and rider Mike Smith / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

A quarter-century ago, Mike Smith was given a leg up on fan favorite Holy Bull in the Grade 1 Travers, and the pair proceeded to put on a show to remember. Holy Bull held a four-length lead with a quarter-mile to go and then held off a tremendous rally by Concern and won by a neck, with Preakness and Belmont Stakes-winner Tabasco Cat another neck back in third.

Since then, Smith has won the Travers three more times, with Coronado’s Quest in 1998, Arrogate in 2016 and West Coast in 2017. Now known as “Big Money” Mike thanks to his ability to get on the right horses at the right time in the biggest races, Smith returns to Saratoga Race Course for the 150th Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers with a tall order – aboard 30-1 long shot and Dallas Stewart trainee Chess Chief.

“I’m just fortunate enough to pick him up for Dallas,” said Smith. “I really didn’t have anything going [for the Travers] and he called me last week and I said I’d be happy for the opportunity.”

Smith usually teams up with trainer Bob Baffert for many of the top-level races, but Baffert pulled Game Winner out of contention last week due to a virus, and entered Mucho Gusto at the last minute, naming Joe Talamo, the colt’s regular jockey, to ride.

“You’re always happy to ride in the Travers,” said Smith, who plans to arrive at the Spa on Friday. “I’ll do my homework and learn more and more about Chess Chief, and of course talk more with Dallas. I’m looking forward to it.”

Smith will be the seventh jockey to ride Chess Chief, who ran a distant second to Mr. Money in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park on August 3. The 3-year-old son of Into Mischief has only a maiden win, at the Fair Grounds in March, in 10 starts.

“I hope the first time I meet him will turn out to the best time,” said Smith.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds

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