No rider at Belmont Park is hotter than Mike Smith right now; the Hall of Famer has already won four races half-way through the card. In the G2 Woody Stephens, Smith gave a textbook ride to Bob Baffert trainee American Anthem, who drove away in the lane to score by 3 1/4 lengths. A 3-year-old son of Bodemeister owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing and Head of Plains Partners, American Anthem sprinted seven furlongs over the fast main track in 1:22.14. Baffert also has three winners on the Belmont card.
“It’s just like the good old days; back in New York and getting the opportunity to ride some great horses today for [trainers] Bob [Baffert] and Jerry [Hollendorfer, with Songbird],” Smith grinned. “It’s just a blast. You point the good ones in the right direction and they get the job done.”
Calumet-owned Hard Scramble and Wild Shot broke on top of the field of 11 sophomores, but Recruiting Ready was hot on their heels and took over the lead before the first quarter mile. American Anthem was close up on the outside, even with Classic Rock to his inside in fourth position. Smith kept his mount out in the clear all the way down the backstretch, then asked the colt to move up mid-way through the turn.
Recruiting Ready had gone out to a one-length lead through fractions of :21.79 and :44.81, but he was taken on by Wild Shot and Hard Scramble in the far turn. Recruiting Ready maintained his lead over those rivals, but a four-wide American Anthem drew even with the leader at the head of the lane. Those two screamed down the stretch together, but several reminders from Smith had American Anthem pulling away to cross the wire 3 1/4 lengths in front. Giuseppe the Great got up for second over Recruiting Ready, and Petrov was fourth.
“He was moving around the turn but the wind picked up and, man, it’s a big, bad headwind around the turn,” Smith explained. “I was out in the open and I just started getting my little body as low as I could just to kind of get through the wind. It was really slowing us. But once I got through it, boom, he took off.”
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, American Anthem was a $ 180,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale, then WinStar re-purchased the colt as a 2-year-old with partner China Horse Club at OBS March for $ 435,000. His first stakes win came in his fifth start, last out in the G3 Lazaro Barrera at Santa Anita, but the Woody Stephens win improves his resume to three wins and a second from six starts, with earnings of over $ 400,000.
“The odds are usually against you, but so far we’ve had good trips and good horses,” said Baffert. “They came in here, prepped well and shipped well. All you can ask for is that they run as well as they ship. There’s a lot of pressure on a big day. You don’t want to embarrass a good horse on a big day.”
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