When Bob Baffert and Mike Smith team to try to complete the Triple Crown June 9 with Justify at Belmont Park, as a duo, the two will carry momentum that dates back to 2016—especially in top, pressure-packed races.
In all races where Baffert and Smith have teamed since 2016, they have registered a 42% win rate (46 wins in 110 starts). Those 46 wins include 28 graded stakes wins from just 68 starts (41%). And on racing's biggest stages the duo has been particularly effective. Since 2016 they have teamed to win 11 races with purses of $1 million or more.
As a pair of veterans and no strangers to the biggest stages on their own, Baffert and Smith both said there is a comfort zone in working together.
"We have mutual respect for each other. He's very professional—a good horseman," Baffert said. "He gives me feedback. He doesn't have to come back and give me a story—he just tells me maybe the horse didn't want to run or wasn't quite right."
Smith said, while the races may be pressure-packed, Baffert doesn't put added weight on his shoulders.
"You don't feel like your job's on the line every time you ride," Smith said. "Besides being a good trainer, he's a good coach."
Baffert thinks reducing such concerns is important. "He doesn't have to worry about his job," Baffert said. "Sometimes you use a rider and they're worried about their jobs."
While Baffert and Smith have teamed plenty of times over the year, the trainer noted that when he and Smith first started working more together, it wasn't a rocket start.
"We won the Triple Crowns for seconds," Baffert said, referencing the 2012 classics, when they teamed to secure runner-up honors in all three classics: Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1), followed by Paynter in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
But since 2016 the duo has captured some of the biggest races in the country and the world. In 2016 with Arrogate they won the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) and $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Then in 2017 they scored with Arrogate in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) and the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1).
Also in 2017 Baffert and Smith teamed to win the $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1) with Mor Spirit. And with West Coast they captured the Travers and the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2). This year it's been Justify's three grade 1 wins in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness.
"We've had some luck," Baffert said. "Working with him is a joy. I don't worry about Mike Smith."