(Omaha Beach / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
From the Santa Anita Media Team:
Along with a record 26 Breeders’ Cup wins, two Eclipse Awards, a pair of Kentucky Derby wins that include a Triple Crown in 2018, New Mexico native Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith also includes three wins in Santa Anita’s signature opening day Grade I stakes, the $300,000 Runhappy Malibu, which is contested at seven furlongs.
Chances are good (4-5) that Smith will notch Malibu win number four on Saturday with the Richard Mandella-trained Omaha Beach, who will be making in all likelihood his penultimate start prior to a career finale in the Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25.
Scratched three days prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby due to an entrapped epiglottis, Omaha Beach, a striking dark bay or brown colt by War Front, is owned by Rick Porter’s Foxhill Farms, Inc. and will be making his 10th career start.
Back in town following a Christmas visit with family and friends in New Mexico, the man known in racing circles as “Big Money” Mike, addressed Omaha Beach and the state of racing as Santa Anita stands at the precipice of its 83rd Winter Meet opening day.
Q. Mike, a lot of fans feel a bit cheated, like we haven’t really been able to see enough of Omaha Beach. I know you feel the same way and you must be looking forward to riding him in the Runhappy Malibu?
A. Oh, without a doubt. Man, he’s the kinda horse that I wish we had the whole rest of the (New) year with him. He’s incredible to ride, fun to ride and so much fun to watch run. He’s a brilliant horse, very athletic and hopefully we can pull it off and dazzle the fans tomorrow.
Q. Can you share with us how much horse you thought you had coming out of the Arkansas Derby and heading into the Kentucky Derby?
A. I couldn’t wait to ride him. He was training incredible going into the Derby all the way up until he got that infection in his throat…The way the racetrack came up on Derby Day, with the off-track. We all saw that he had been brilliant on that kind of a track. He’s as good (in the mud) as he is on a fast track…We had a great post and everything was going our way until that happened and it was just a huge misfortune that he didn’t get his chance on that day.
Q. After missing the Derby, you beat a really good horse (Shancelot) in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (Grade I, Oct. 5) and you were then the even money favorite here in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. You were charging at the end, but did you feel like Omaha Beach had too much to do?
A. He was very, very unlucky. He slipped behind leaving the gate and then the kickback was just too much for him. He still ran a game second and I truly believe if he’d have jumped well (from the gate) and not slipped, it could’ve been a different outcome.
Q. You’ve won this race three times, including last year with McKinzie. Coming into this year’s Malibu, is Omaha Beach the best horse you’ve ever ridden in this race?
A. Oh, without a doubt. If all goes well, and he runs his race, you might see something really special, he’s training that good.
Q. Mike, Omaha Beach is scheduled to go to stud at Spendthrift Farm this spring. Is there any chance you could talk to his connections into letting him run all the way through his 4-year-old year?
A. I’d love to. After the Pegasus, I think it’s up to Mr. Hughes (B. Wayne, Spendthrift owner) I believe, I’m really not a 100 percent sure, but I think that was the deal when they sold him as a stallion prospect. We gotta talk to Mr. Mandella (laughing), he’s had some good fortune with Mr. Hughes. Maybe we can talk them into leaving him around for the rest of the year…You never know.
Q. If you could address the entire racing industry as we approach the New Year, do you have any advice, given all that we’ve been through in 2019?
A. That’s a tough question. I think we’ve got to get back to the basics and do all the little things right all over again. A lot of (these problems) are in-house stuff that we need to take care of and I think once we do that, this great sport will carry on. A horse is an amazing animal. They bring so much joy and so much pleasure to so many people, in so many different ways. I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that this is a sport that should go on to the end of time…The good Lord willing and horses stay happy and safe, I think the game will get back on track on its own. Once these great horses start running, you can’t help but want to come out and watch ’em and love ’em.
Q. Mike, I know you feel happiness is a very important component to a successful racehorse. What makes them happy and how do you know when they are?
A. You see it in them. They just shine, they exude wellness. The people, the trainers that take care of them, they do such a tremendous job…When a horse gets happy, sound and healthy, let me tell you something…When you get all those elements going in the right direction, that horse is gonna be a tough horse to beat, especially when he’s got that kind of talent to start with.
With the Runhappy Malibu carded as the ninth on a blockbuster 10-race program, there is special early first post time on Saturday at 11 a.m. Admission gates will open at 9 a.m. and all attendees will receive Santa Anita’s traditional wall calendar free, with paid admission. For more information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.