Jockey Mike Smith Continues to Take Some Blame for Zenyatta’s Loss

November 9, 2010 – 6:45 am by Eric Schmoldt

Zenyatta’s film vault has plenty of clips of her winning amazing races. The most compelling of all, however, may be the one where she lost.

After starting her career 19-0, Zenyatta’s legacy was to be capped off with career-ending victory in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Instead, she started poorly or at least poorer than usual, dropped to the back of the pack — way back — for most of the race. It got to the point where jockey Mike Smith, as he explains in the following interview, even considered pulling up in case Zenyatta was injured.

Instead, they soldiered on, and one mesmerizing run later, the tandem finished second to Blame by a mere nose. There seems to be no way that Zenyatta should have even been that close, let alone won, but Mike Smith felt otherwise, taking all the blame (pun intended) afterward. Despite the struggle of a trip, he still feels they should’ve won.

Mike Smith joined  XX Sports Radio in San Diego with Scott and BR to discuss why it was his fault, what was going through his mind during the trip, Zenyatta’s training, the thoughts he had of pulling up and out of the race, whether he talked to the horse during the trip, if there has been a conversation about Zenyatta’s future and Zenyatta’s potential belief that she won the race.

On why the loss was his fault:

“I just can’t blame her. I just can’t. It’s just, you know, obviously she just didn’t handle the track at all, the first part. Or actually the whole race around there, even the gate, she was just having a lot of trouble with it. … Every time she’d kind of bobble it just took her a while to get up and she just did that all the way around there. She ran courageous as it was, but she did that on heart, it wasn’t because she ever got a hold of it. … I was a good 20 lengths out of it going around the far turn and it was just way too much ground to make up. For her to only come up a nose short, it can’t be no one’s fault but mine.”

On what he was thinking during the struggles:

“I’ve never felt it before. So you can just imagine. Everything from, ‘Do I finish the race? Do I try?’ You name it. All of it went by in a matter of seconds. She just had a rough time with it. She just really, really did. … Everything went wrong. But I’m not taking nothing away from Blame. He ran a great race. What a trip he had over his favorite course. It’s just the way it was meant to be I guess.”

On his thoughts of pulling up:

“At one point I thought, ‘Whoa, what was that?’ at the eighth-pole. I knew she was OK, I just knew she was having a really, really hard time. Most horses would’ve eased. They wouldn’t even have finished the race. She just kept trying. It was just amazing. Even at the eighth-pole, the second time around, when I got her out, I said, ‘OK, I can still get them,’ but she just couldn’t get ahold of it.”

On whether he had dialogue with the horse:

“Sure. The first time around, I said, ‘C’mon, get up, get up, c’mon, you can get up, get up.’ Just trying to help her and trying to make her get a little closer at the same time. But the only way I could help her was just to grab ahold of her and just pull her up. But that was going to slow her way down. I had to do a little of both, help her for a jump, ask her for a jump, help her for a jump, ask her for two jumps, help her for two jumps, ask her for three jumps.”

On whether there has been dialogue about Zenyatta’s future:

“Not yet. I hope it does. … Yeah [I want her to win her final race], in saying that, I mean that with all, you know, she came back wonderful. She’s healthy, she’s sound, she’s happy. She enjoys running. She just didn’t enjoy running over that racetrack on Saturday. … If they’d like to do it, I’d see nothing wrong with it. She deserves a chance to go out a winner. And if they don’t, she still went out a winner.”

Listen to the interview with Mike Smith on  XX Sports Radio in San Diego here

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  1. 29 Responses to “Jockey Mike Smith Continues to Take Some Blame for Zenyatta’s Loss”

  2. If anyone is to blame for Z’s loss it is John Scheriffs, the trainer. Watching her last two works before the BC, they were exactly like her race. Horse to her inside beat her to the wire and she did not gallop out ahead of them. I feel she was taught or let’s say “permitted” to finish like this. I feel she should have been made to pass her workmate well before the wire and then continue running through the finish line. Just a thought, I could be wrong.

    By Chris Cahill DVM on Nov 9, 2010

  3. The comment about Sheriff’s is absurd. How can you blame him, he has kept her in top form for 3 years..She has not been easy to keep sound and he has done that and kept her happy. Give me a break.

    By Pete M on Nov 9, 2010

  4. Sometimes they just don’t have it 100% and that is okay. They are not machines, they are flesh and blood. They may have it in their heart but as we all know, our minds say one thing and our bodies say another.
    She is an incredible and beautiful horse. It just wasn’t her day and that is okay!

    By Shelley Gorman on Nov 9, 2010

  5. Zenyatta was more impressive in the Cup loss than in most of her victories; the “best”
    horse lost this time. She needed to race in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga to get some dirt-in-her-face experience, beat Rachel who I love but was so-so this year, and then be better prepared for Churchill Downs.
    Moss and Sheriffs are reasonable people, but they made a mistake for the last few years hiding in California. Maybe they really were not confident that she was that good – Mike Smith deserved better.

    By Professor Saratoga on Nov 9, 2010

  6. Sorry, but the amateurs just don’t get it.

    If she had won (6″ more) none of this absurd talk about ‘a bad day’ or ‘not having it’ would be heard.

    She ran a monster race. Period. The 6 inches has nothing to do with it.

    By Jim Davis on Nov 9, 2010

  7. Wow Chris Cahill, “might be wrong” is an understatement. I question whether you actually watched the works in their entirety and I am quite certain that you have never watched her prior works, or you would never make such a statement.

    Don’t quit your day job! LOL

    By Racing Fan on Nov 9, 2010

  8. Jim Davis:

    Your comment about amateurs is sad…is that the best Trash you can talk?

    She lost.
    If she had won, comments would have been absurd – but would not have been made.

    But she lost – when she should have won.

    Not the best race management by Sheriffs and the Mosses to WIN THE BIG ONE – needed an easy dirt race at Saratoga as a prep…Personal Ensign would have been perfect.

    By Professor Saratoga on Nov 9, 2010

  9. Sour grapes Mr. Smith. She loses one race and now she didnt handle the track? Pretty sad.

    By LOL on Nov 9, 2010

  10. Am I the only one who is tired of seeing Mike Smith throw himself under the bus on this one??

    Why can’t Shirreffs,somewhere, someplace, take a little responsibility, and say “I probably should have conditioned her to getting dirt in her face..”

    Or The Mosses saying “Maybe we should have campaigned her at a few more tracks this year, like we said we were going to…”

    Why does it all have to fall onto Mike Smith’s shoulders?? What happened to “TEAM Zenyatta”?

    By mainetraduh on Nov 9, 2010

  11. Exactly! – Where was TEAM ZENYATTA? The Mosses and John Shirreff should have been sitting with Mike, with John saying he should have sent her to Kentucky to do her breezing in the mornings, on the dirt race track, instead of breezing her on the California synthetic track to just a week before the Breeders Cup.

    By Kevin Holliday on Nov 9, 2010

  12. Mike Smith is throwing himself under the bus because he’s so emotionally attached to his mare, not for any rational reason. Look, she was much the best, but lost by inches and it’s probably not worth a ton of analysis, since etting boxed in and having to shift about probably cost her the tiny, precious half foot she needed to get there first. She ended up handling the track well enough to put in one of the most hair-raising late charges anyone’s ever seen, and she was absolutely dead fit. She’s not the first deep closer the lose a close one, and she won’t be the last. Personally, I think her effort in the Classic was one of the most extraordinary efforts I’ve ever seen from a racehorse. Long live the Queen!

    By LaurieK on Nov 9, 2010

  13. She should have been shipped in sooner and given more works over the track. The first 6 furlongs she looked like she wouldn’t beat a horse and was struggling over the surface. The post race comments note that she disliked the kickback. Her fine effort demonstrated her willingness and form, and Smith gave her as good a ride as he could given the circumstances. You give her a few more weeks to adjust to the climate, locale and track and maybe those first few furlongs she’s more involved and interested in the race.

    By Dcajero on Nov 10, 2010

  14. Agree totally…should have shipped in a good week or two before. She’s never run on this track, and to take her from warm California to cold, darker-early Kentucky, with the top horses globally, and waking her up at 2 a.m. to ship her from CA in the middle of the night..why? The blame is not on Mike in any way. He was perfect. He gave her every chance. I’m surprised he didn’t pull her up. She looked like LifeAtTen or BigBrown the first 1/8 mile. And agree what happened to Team Zenyatta???

    By Samantha on Nov 10, 2010

  15. Why do we have to keep trying to put the blame on anyone? It is what is is, just several events leading up to Zenyatta’s second place finish (I will not say ‘defeat’). We can all arm-chair criticize everyone else, which serves no purpose. Let’s just admit that Zenyatta is probably the best race horse in modern racing history..end of story!

    By Annnie on Nov 10, 2010

  16. Zenyatta ran a race for the ages and she should be voted “horse of the century”. Her connections should have sent her to Churchill Downs a couple of weeks sooner so she could get acclimatized to the colder temp and the dirt track. She overcame the distance and to me she won! Could any other horse in that group done as well? No, This is horseracing just like real life.

    By Gisela C on Nov 10, 2010

  17. In Winnipeg Canada is a racetrack called Assiniboia Downs. The have a website called ASD. Check out their website. The article there is the best I’ve ever read regarding Zenyatta’s greatness and her latest BC race. The writer hit the nail on the head!!!!!!!

    By Kevin Holliday on Nov 10, 2010

  18. Her effort proved her greatness. According to Steve Willard, she thinks she won–I hope she does because that’s the only opinion that matters to me, along with the fact that she came home safe! Let’s send her off into the next chapter of her life with cheers and the laughter she tried so hard to earn with her dancing and bowing. She has already taught us a thing or two about how to savor both victory and “coming in second”…and a donation in her name to an OTTB rescue might be the best salute of all(I doubt she gives a hoot about HOTY).

    By Mary Kaye on Nov 10, 2010

  19. about two weeks before the BC i posted on some forum, askig the question; should she ship in and train at CD; the basic answers I got were: it didnt’ matter and it was fine that she was training on synthetics; I don’t agree and strongly believe she should have trained on the CD track.

    By Marilyn on Nov 10, 2010

  20. I would also like to hear Shirreffs and the Mosses acknowledge that they should have shipped her east at the very least to train at Churchill, if not for her prep. That mare deserved every opportunity to win that race, which she ran valiantly. Her trainer and owners, not her jockey, denied her that chance to win.

    By Pearl on Nov 10, 2010

  21. Zenyatta ran a great race and is a great horse. But “best horse in modern racing history” or “best horse of the century”? Come on. You could easily argue she wasn’t even the best female at the track on November 6. That accolade would go to Goldikova, who’s beaten males in Grade I stakes many, many times and will have a chance to win the BC Mile four years’ running next year.

    That said, here’s hoping the Mosses keep Zenyatta running in 2011. She ain’t done yet.

    By Mark on Nov 11, 2010

  22. folks….she was training on the dirt training track at hollywood prior to the bc. she also ran at oaklawn earlier in the year. blame was on his home track, and that is a real reason why he assimilated into the race long before she did. qr held her up on the turn, and mike should have taken her the overland route earlier to avoid the traffic jam caused when qr ran out of gas.

    By craig on Dec 28, 2010

  23. Mike Smith took the blame as he should. He is the most overrated jockey that i can think of. Watch how he is unnecessarily wide, waits, too long and misjudges pace over and over again. I used to love betting him- on anything he rode, but since his last couple of accidents/injuries, I do not see the same jock. I bet Drosselmyer in the Belmont and was kicking myself halfway through the race when he was so wide. No, Mike Smith is to blame for this…he left himself and Zenyatta with too much to do! It’s a shame, but true. Poor ride all the way around as were some of her earlier victories. I think he thought he would win another race in dramatic fashion and this time he was wrong. Mike Smith lost the race, not Zenyatta or her trainer.

    By chaz on Feb 13, 2011

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