By Ed McNamara
The funny Irishman in the back of the media shuttle bus clearly had had too much to drink, but he was still making a lot of sense. Early in the evening on Breeders’ Cup Saturday back in November, he was ripping Hall of Famer Mike Smith for his ride on Omaha Beach in the BC Dirt Mile (G1).
The even-money favorite had finished second behind front-running long shot Spun to Run after Smith let him lag too far behind on a day when closers were at a serious disadvantage. The margin was 2¾ lengths, but it might as well have been 10, because Omaha Beach never had a chance. Halfway through the race, he was seventh, 8½ lengths behind, and he had to circle the field.
“Big Money Mike?” the Irishman said. “More like No Money Mike today.”
He then zinged Smith some more for his questionable performance on Midnight Bisou, another star who on paper looked too good to lose. She also never got involved and ran second in the BC Distaff (G1) for her only loss of the year in eight starts.
It was a rare bad day for Smith, whose tactical brilliance in the biggest races has become a given. He rebounded with Omaha Beach on Dec. 28 in an effortless, 2¾-length runaway in the 7-furlong Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita. The Malibu, his third Grade I win, seems to have set up Omaha Beach perfectly for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile, $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. He excelled in his final workout on Sunday, when he breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00.72 at Gulfstream.
“The rider said he felt like a Cadillac,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “Actually, like a Porsche.”
Smith worked out a perfect trip on Arrogate to dominate the first Pegasus, and it would be no surprise if the 54-year-old did an encore with Omaha Beach.
The now even-money favorite is clearly the best horse, and he drew favorably (post 5). Omaha Beach doesn’t need the lead and should be able to sit behind the speed. Quick fractions should be supplied by long shot Bodexpress and Mucho Gusto, now the second choice after Spun to Run was scratched Thursday morning because of a skin condition, according to trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero.
The absence of Spun to Run removes a major pace player, and it gives Smith another option if he thinks he can make an easy lead.
I’m not keen on any of the closers, and I’m guessing that quality speed will carry a long way. I see Omaha Beach pulling away in the final furlong while Mucho Gusto holds on to edge the rallying Higher Power for second.
$1 million Pegasus World Turf (1 3/16 miles)
Magic Wand is the marquee horse, but she’s stuck out in post 12. The better news is that the classiest runner in the field is a generous 7-2 in the morning line. I have the same problem with this race as I do with the Pegasus World Cup: Except for the favorite, I really can’t make a case for any others in the field. I don’t like chalking out in big races, but if I can get 3-1 or 7-2 on Magic Wand, I’m going to take it. Her rider, Ryan Moore, has an uncanny ability to find the right path at the right time, and Magic Wand finally will get the firm ground she loves.
I’ll pick Magic Wand first, with the reliable Arklow second and deep closer Sadler’s Joy getting up for third on a course he likes but at a distance too short for his best.
$150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (Oaklawn, mile, 3-year-olds)
About the only major race that Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen hasn’t won is the one everybody wants most, the Kentucky Derby (G1). Asmussen has a barn filled with promising 3-year-olds, and he’ll send out four, all stakes winners, on Friday in the Smarty Jones.
“We’re more than well represented,” he said.
Asmussen’s quartet – Silver Prospector, Shoplifted, Gold Street, Jungle Runner – all deserve respect, as do Three Technique, owned by NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, and Lynn’s Map.
Silver Prospector is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, but his best race was on an off track and he looks like an underlay. I’ll lay off 20-1 Jungle Runner. I went back and forth between speedy Gold Street (5-1) and closer Shoplifted (3-1). I went with Gold Street, who never has been around two turns. His pedigree (Street Boss out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare) says he should have no problem going a mile, which might be easier for him to handle because of the short stretch run in a mile at Oaklawn.