Talkin' Horses with Steve Haskin - Wednesday May 11, 2005

Join Steve Haskin and his special guest, winning jockey Mike Smith, for a live "morning after" breakdown of Giacomo's stunning victory in Kentucky Derby 131.

Haskin has been a senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse since 1998, he is an award-winning Turf writer renowned for his Kentucky Derby commentary. During his nearly three decades at Daily Racing Form, Haskin made a name with his "Derby Watch" columns.

Mike Smith is the Hall of Fame jockey, who rode Giacomo to a 50-1 upset victory in Saturday's 131st Kentucky Derby (gr. I). This was the first Kentucky Derby victory for Smith, a two-time Eclipse Award winner who is currently riding at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

Thanks to everyone for joining us for today's Talkin' Horses with Steve Haskin and his special guest, winning Kentucky Derby jockey Mike Smith. Steve is joining us from his home in New Jersey and we'll also have Mike Smith, who is at Churchill Downs getting ready to ride in the first race. Mike and Steve have answered many of the questions readers have submitted in advance and we'll post some of those now and continue to take questions during the hour. We greatly appreciate all of the questions. Due to the volume, we're sorry if we were not able to get to every one. Let's get started!

Union Bridge, MD
Mike, how did you originally plan to ride the race, and did it unfold the way you expected it to?

It happened just almost the way I planned it other than getting hung out on the first turn. I'd planned on sitting back and making one big run. And I knew I'd have to go through a lot of traffic, but it all worked out.

Poplar Grove IL
Mike - fantastic race! You said Giacomo was your Derby horse from the first time you got on him. What makes a jockey feel so sure so early on? Thanks, Judi.

His balance. The way he carried himself. He felt like a good horse, and he looked a lot like his father. He reminded me of Holy Bull in a lot of ways and I just fell in love with him.

Toronto, Ontario
Steve, In your final analysis of the Derby entrants you touched on the chances of several horses and seemed somewhat uncertain as to your final pick, having backed off Bandini. In retrospect, what is it about Giacomo that made him unattractive, with not even as much as a passing reference?

I said in an earlier column he looked like the type of horse who could hit the board at a big price, but the fact is, he still had only a maiden victory to his credit and had lost five in a row, and you can't pick everybody. Sure, I can look back and see things that might hint to what was to come, but you don't have that luxury before the fact, especially with 20 horses.

Waldoboro, Maine
How do you feel Bellamy Road, and the other Derby favorites, fit into the picture compared to Giacomo now? Do you still think they are better horses?

Yes, they are better horses, but the better horses don't always win the Derby. And the ones who are better don't show it until they win the Derby.

Cedarville, Ohio
Steve, Recent Derby success by horses don't have the typical "stayer" pedigrees through their sire (i.e. Holy Bull, Maria's Mon) that handicappers have sought in the past. Are we over-rating the traditional "stayer" sire lines for future Kentucky Derby winners? Or will the staying lines like Princequillo roll back around?

Stayers are a dying breed, and the Princequillo line is rapidly fading into the past. I can count on one hand the number of true staying influences in a horse's 4-generation pedigree. And that's not where the Derby winners come from any longer.
Harrisburg, PA

Because of the rabbit, the extra distance, and the fact that he was forced wide throughout the race, do you think we can draw a black line on the Derby for Bellamy Road? He was the last of the frontrunners still standing as they headed for the finish, and when Javier got him straightened out he almost re-rallied, but did not have the energy. I haven't really seen a three-year-old have two runs in him in a long time, and feel like Bellamy Road hasn't shown us his all yet.

It's all moot now that he's injured, but I had already drawn a black line through his race. It was a throw out to me, especially having had only two starts this year and having to chase that blistering pace.

Missoula, Montana
This is not a question, but rather, a huge compliment For Mike Smith. I used to gallop horses in New York about 15 years ago and knew Mike when he was the predominant rider of the Phipps horses. He has always been such a tremendously talented rider and an especially nice person. Everyone loves him and appreciates the way he always showers his horses with praise when they win. He is very smart and respectful of everyone - all class. His ride on Giacomo was so spectacular and reflected every bit the high level of skill and experience he possesses. He fully earned and deserves this win as well as every bit of reverence and admiration that should now come his way. He is certainly one of the best in a sport that has got to be the most dangerous and difficult sport to master. I couldn't be happier for him and I'm sure anyone associated with horse racing feels the same!

SMITH: Thank you so much. I'm blown away by your comments.

Cedarville, Ohio
Mike, Regarding Giacomo and Holy Bull -- at this exact point in their careers, which would you say is the better colt, judged not by wins or losses, but by talent produced? Thanks for your response. Sally

That's a hard question. They're both very talented. Holy Bull had done a whole lot more than Giacomo early in his career. Giacomo is just now beginning to reach his potential. Holy Bull was great from the start.

Williamstown, NJ
Since Bellamy Road is out of the Preakness and therefore some early speed gone, will that make it more difficult for Giacomo? Does Giacomo need fast, early speed up front to win the Preakness? Thank you

It would certainly help to have speed, but Giacomo is quicker than people realize. John got him to where he relaxes. But he can lay closer if I need him to.

Pasadena, CA
Mike- Congratulations! You've had many Derby disappointments, but one of the biggest, besides Holy Bull has to be you choosing Talkin Man over Thunder Gulch and handing Gary Stevens a Derby win. What have Gary and other riders that you've gone to battle with over the years said to you after winning this Derby? What does it mean to you to hear the congratulations coming from your peers?

Gary was beside himself. I was in shock and couldn't even cry, so Gary was balling for me. You wouldn't believe the response I've gotten from everyone. It's just been amazing. The hug I got from Gary when I came back was something else. And my phone has literally blown up. It's been great. I love it.

Acton, CA
Congratulations, Mike, on maybe the most masterful ride I've seen in the Derby! I was at Santa Anita the day you rode Giacomo to a second-place finish behind Consolidator. It's always seemed as though Giacomo has wanted more distance and his experience in coming from behind in traffic seemed to benefit him in the Derby. Would you agree? How do you think his style of running will fare with the tighter turns and shorter distance of the Preakness? Will you need to ride him differently to achieve the same result? Diana ---- Owner/Breeder CTBA Member

Thank you for those kind words. I definitely do agree with you about the distance and experience. And California a lot of times is speed favoring, so it helped to come back here where you get a better chance to run a horse down. He shouldn't have any problem with Pimlico's turns -- it's not that tight.

Alpharetta, GA
Mike, when you were coming through the lane, when did you really realize that you were going to win the Derby? Was it before or after you hit the wire?

Before the wire, definitely. I thought at the quarter pole I had a big, big chance. At the eighth pole I said we still got more to do. But just inside the eighth pole I felt I had won it.

Hollywood, FL
Dear Mike, Congratulations on your victory in the Derby. Having read in the Daily Racing Form on Saturday that Holy Bull was a genetic aberration, I was thrilled to see that you set the historical record right by showing the world that Holy Bull and his son Giacomo are exceptional race horses -- true Thoroughbred Champions -- that merit the respect of everyone in the racing industry. How is riding Giacomo different from Holy Bull? Any differences in their personalities?

Holy Bull was more aggressive all the way around -- he was aggressive to be around and when he ran. He was quicker early than Giacomo. He was a very, very fast horse.

Los Angeles, CA
First I want to say what a brilliant ride you made in the Derby. My question is are you going to cash that $200 win ticket the Mosses gave you or are you gonna save it as a memento? I vote on framing it with the winner's circle picture!! God bless you, and the rest of the jockeys who risk life and limb on a daily basis doing what they love!! Greg Z.

I appreciate that and I know the other guys do too. You want to know what I'm going to do with that ticket? I'm going to cash it and give half to my agent. That's what I always do.

Reno, NV
When will the graded stakes earnings for limiting the field to 20 be updated? A horse winning a graded sprint stakes at Saratoga is not necessarily a Derby horse, but his earnings from early in his career can determine his eligibility in a field of 20. Why not make the rule "Graded stakes earnings at a mile or more", which would better determine mile and a quarter candidates?

Excellent point. I feel a point system based on grade I, II, and III races would work. But yours could work as well. It sure would eliminate a lot of non-Derby horses.

New York, NY
Why are horses that are basically milers on breeding (War Emblem, Smarty Jones, Giacomo) now winning the Derby regularly?

The sire is having less and less of an impact on the Derby horses. Any sire, and I mean any, can sire a Derby winner. But you have to have a strong classy female family, which all three of those horses had.

Decatur, GA
One of the NBC announcers mentioned that Giacomo has epilepsy. Is this true? If so, is Giacomo medicated? Wouldn't performance at a level to win the Derby be considered amazing given that anticonvulsants are sedating?

Boy, you really got me on this one. I have to admit I have no experience dealing with epileptic horses. I didn't even know horses got epilepsy.

Islandia, NY
We read a lot about your faith and prayers every day. Noticed that when you returned to the winners circle you were taking your helmet off and thanking the Lord so many times. Does this victory raise your faith?

No it doesn't. But my faith in God is about as high as it can be. I have strong belief in Him.

New York, NY
Steve, you've stated in columns that your Derby betting strategy is based primarily on workouts and visual observation in the days prior to the race. Respectfully, how prudent is that strategy considering multiple horses do not arrive at Churchill to put a workout on the track (can you say Giacomo?), and, even if a horse does, the track changes on Derby day anyway? Thanks

I addressed this earlier and as I said, maybe I'll have to change my strategy to keep up with the changing times. As far as prudent strategy, I have no choice. That's what they pay me to do. But you can bet I will be changing my outlook in the future.

New York, NY
Mike- awesome Derby- congratulations-way to believe in Giacomo, glad I did too- had him across the board! See you at the Preakness! Aimee B., New York, NY

Thanks a million.

Chicago, Illinois
Hey, Steve -- Please explain why a Bellamy Road's jockey, who knows that there's a rabbit in the race certain to run a sub :46 half, would allow his horse to hang three lengths from the lead through the first 3/4 miles. Why do jockeys continue to fall for this trick (Point Given comes to mind), or is it really that hard to control a horse's pace? Thanks!

You can't change a horse's running style, and there's no way a frontrunner like Bellamy Road is going to be farther back than fifth. He was simply victimized by a meaningless rabbit. As for Point Given, Bob Baffert felt Congaree was the horse to beat and told Stevens to make sure he was right there behind him turning for home. I doubt he was have told him that had he known they'd go the six furlongs in 1:08 4/5.

Dallas, Texas
Mike- I recorded the race and noticed in viewing later that after crossing the wire and cooling out Giacomo, after the outrider approached to bring you home, something came off the colt's equipment or your person. This was well after the win, but cameras were still rolling. It was a dirty white color and looked like a rolled up program, but after both horses walked on looked like maybe a piece of cloth or padding dropped on the track. This would have come from your right hand side. The question is "what was it?" After the Hoopla over Santos' picture with Funny Cide a couple years ago, I'm curious.

I'm not aware of anything falling. I'm just lucky I didn't fall off the horse. I was just in shock. But it's probably something the outrider had. I didn't see.

Versailles, KY
How in the world could you have missed Giacomo??

My job is to make a final analysis based on works, gallops, and observations. When a horse ships in three days before the race and has only two gallops, I can't justify picking him when I've been watching all the others closely for two weeks. But I can honestly say no one has ever asked me how I could have missed a $100 horse. Normally, $100 horses are not what you'd consider obvious.

Kenosha, Wisconsin
Hey Mike. Congratulations on winning the Kentucky Derby. Knowing you were on a long shot, do you ride your horse any different than you would when on a favorite? Thanks

No. That was my game plan and it didn't matter what his odds were. I felt like I was on the favorite. I wasn't going out and saying he'd win, but I knew he would run big. I had confidence.

Brooksville, FL
I know its a bit early, but since quite a few horses have won the Preakness after winning the Derby, what would you say Giacomo's chances are of winning it? Would you say he's going to be a considered a serious contender or a longshot (in the Preakness)?

No Derby winner is ever a longshot in the Preakness, although Charismatic was pretty much ignored. This crop has been beating each other all winter and spring (how often do we say that nowadays?), so any horse can win the Preakness and it probably wouldn't come as a surprise. With Bandini and Bellamy Road gone, we've lost two of the more exciting 3-year-olds. It's pretty much a crap shoot from here, although Afleet Alex is still the horse to beat.

Lady Lake, FL
I've always wondered about the time of day that horses are asked to run in a big stakes race. Just like people, I imagine there are some horses that are "morning" horses and some that are "late afternoon" horses. Isn't it possible that a 'morning' horse could probably win the big race if it was run much earlier? Come 6 pm, wouldn't he rather be resting or sleeping instead of running in a race?

That's hard for me to say. Some horses are more relaxed in the morning and just can't take the pressure in the afternoon.

Miami, FL
I can't wait to read your explanation as to how the Racing Gods allowed Giacomo to win The Derby!!!

My editor frowns on the Derby gods angle, so I've been trying to minimize its use as much as possible. But being you asked, the Derby gods do not smile down on the horses, but the people. And I can certainly see Mike Smith as a worthy recipient of the Derby gods' generosity.

Montreal, Quebec
Mike, do you really feel that your horse can win the Preakness, and maybe even a Triple Crown?

We certainly have to get the Preakness before the Triple Crown, but I really do. I think you guys are just starting to see this colt come around. There is more to see and I think he is going to get better.

Batavia, OH
Did Afleet Alex have a bad trip around compared to Giacomo because when I keep watching the race it seems Alex had a bunch of bumping and still overcame it and the winner just got lucky. Do you think they should watch out for Alex if he gets a good start. Since he gets better each time he is out of the gate. Thanks

A lot of horses got bumped around, but all in all, he had a fairly good trip, other than being too close to the pace. Giacomo got a good ride from Smith, who was able to pick his way through the field.

Torrance, CA
Is it feasible to say that Spanish Chestnut's fast pace cost several horses, including Bellamy Road, the race?

I touched on this earlier. Yes, it did cost a half a dozen horses the race, including Bellamy Road, and it's a shame because he should never have been in the race. If Bandini had not gotten hurt, he would have been victimized by it as well. Made no sense.

Boise, Idaho
Mike-  Our family lives in the house next door to your buddy Gary Stevens' parents here in Boise, ID. We have always known that you are a very talented rider and have been big fans of yours for many years. We are delighted that you so skillfully guided Giacomo to his win in the Derby. Congratulations! My question for you today is: (I would like to send you a Boise State Bronco cap) What is your hat size or should I wait and ask after you and Giacomo have won the Triple Crown? You're the best, buddy!

Six and seven-eighths. But it definitely may grow!

BH Moderator:
At this point, Mike has to get ready to ride the first race at Churchill Downs today, so we're not able to take any more questions for him. We greatly appreciate his time and thank everyone for sending in their congratulations and questions for Mike. We're sorry if we weren't able to get to every question. We'll continue to post questions he answered in advance of the hour.

Del Mar, CA
How's Giacomo been doing since last Saturday? Have you seen him? 

Yes I have and he looks tremendous. His first day back on the track was this morning when he went out for a jog.

Pasadena, CA
Awesome ride Mike. Saw you on the David Letterman show. Was that fun?

Yeah it was. I had a blast. He was very nice.

Ludington, MI
Do you think that because the Preakness has been won by open lengths in recent years has caused Kentucky Derby/Preakness winners to lose the Belmont because of such a huge effort in the Preakness?

Definitely. Triple Crown winners as a whole do not romp in the Preakness. I think Funny Cide and Smarty Jones both lost the Belmont in the Preakness, especially Funny Cide, who was driven to the wire. There was no need for that at all.

Oklahoma City, OK
Mike, Who do you fear most in the Preakness?

Afleet Alex is always tough.

Chicago, IL
The finish of the Derby was a clinic in deceleration with the winner merely decelerating the least. The final quarter mile and final time were atrocious given the track conditions. Is this the American breeding program coming home to roost? Isn't this how milers run at 1&1/4 miles?

This is exactly how milers run 1 1/4 miles, and we better get used to it, because stamina is a thing of the past. And the ones who do have stamina are simply too slow. Those horses were slowing down quite a bit in the end, and it's hard to believe only one horse was able to close and get it done. And he was one of the few horses in the race who didn't have the dosage.

Indian River, MI
How many other offspring of Holy Bull have you ridden, and have any bore his resemblance like Giacomo has?

Yes I have ridden a number of Holy Bulls, but none has resembled him like this horse.

Cleveland, OH
Steve, Call me a skeptic, but do you find it at all bothersome that all of the "high percentage trainers" fell flat on their faces this weekend when heavy duty drug screening and other related security measures were in force at CD. It went way beyond the very obvious Oaks and Derby and pretty much effected the entire weekend.

Excellent question. You have every right to be skeptical, and while there is no proof that the drug testing resulted in the all those poor performances, it certainly does make you wonder. In this case, several of the performances of the horses trained by high percentage trainers were a result of one form of injury or another, such as Bandini and High Limit, so it's difficult to form any conclusions. Let's see what happens in the future.

Richmond, VA
What was the key to your ride and Giacomo's success on Saturday?

Being patient and picking the spots I picked. I picked some great spots to weave in and out in the whole race. Every spot I picked worked out for us. I don't think I'd of won if we didn't get through every single time. It doesn't always work that way.

BH Moderator:
Thanks to Steve Haskin and his special guest Mike Smith for taking the time to share their thoughts with all of us, and a big thanks to everyone who participated.

Make plans to join Steve here next Wednesday for his Preakness Preview.