December 6, 2021

Omaha Beach coasts in Malibu for record-breaking Smith

Omaha Beach carries jockey Mike Smith to a record 217th Grade 1 win in the Malibu ©Benoit Photo

Records take a lifetime of hard work to accomplish, but Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith didn’t have to work hard at all to rack up the magical Grade 1 win number 217. Smith enjoyed a proverbial armchair ride aboard 2-5 favorite Omaha Beach in Saturday’s $300,000 Malibu (G1) to set the all-time North American Grade 1 record for jockeys.

Smith had just equaled fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey’s mark of 216 in another Grade 1 on Santa Anita’s opening day card, the La Brea (G1). That milestone came a tad earlier than expected, since his mount there, the 11-1 Hard Not to Love, had to upset odds-on Bellafina to move Smith into the tie.

The Malibu, in contrast, went right according to script with Omaha Beach outclassing his foes. If there were a negative about his performance, it’s the pang of knowing we’ll see the Fox Hill Farms runner just one more time on the racetrack. The January 25 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park is slated to be his swan song, with Omaha Beach due to enter stud at Spendthrift thereafter.

Confidently handled by Smith, the Richard Mandella trainee bided his time in fourth as Much Better reeled off an opening quarter in :22.43. Omaha Beach effortlessly erased the gap by the half-mile mark, drawing to within a half-length of the leader in :45.02. Complexity was also improving position, and Manny Wah crept closer, but neither could cope with Omaha Beach’s move on the far turn.

In the blink of an eye, the favorite imposed his will, and the race was effectively over. Manny Wah soldiered on manfully without posing a real challenge. Likewise Roadster, who closed from last to grab second, was never a danger to the winner.

Omaha Beach cruised the rest of the way under a chilly Smith. Crossing the wire with 2 3/4 lengths to spare over Roadster, he completed the 7-furlong feature in 1:22.33. Manny Wah checked in a further 2 1/4 lengths adrift, trailed by Complexity and the tailed-off Much Better.

Smith, who also won a pair of turf stakes on the undercard, spoke to Santa Anita publicity about how much the Grade 1 record means to him.

“It is very humbling. I am a very blessed man and when you are blessed, opportunities arise, like I get to ride for Mr. Mandella and all kinds of things happen.

“He (Omaha Beach) just gives you that confidence, he exudes it. Mr. Mandella had him trained up so well for this race. I basically stayed as still as I could. I didn’t want to mess it up to be honest. He did it all on his own and he did it pretty handy today.

“It’s just amazing, and this horse speaks for everything. He’s just beautiful, so fun to be around, so fun to ride, and so fun to train. It just shows how great this horse really is. I’m so happy and so blessed to be a part of it. To surpass Jerry (Bailey) on Omaha Beach even makes it that much more special.

“It’s 217? Wow. You shocked me right there to be honest with you. You’re blessed to win one in this sport; 217, man I can’t even tell you.

“Jerry is someone that comes from my hometown. I was born in New Mexico but raised in Texas in El Paso where he’s from. His father was my dentist. I went to the same high school that he did. When his high school gave him an honor, I was in the grandstand watching him. I wasn’t even riding yet; I was just a kid. He’s always meant a lot to me, so to surpass him means a whole lot.

“It’s been an amazing career looking back on it. It’s too bad we don’t look back on things every day in situations like this to appreciate what you’ve been able to accomplish. Passing Jerry Bailey at anything is pretty amazing.”

The Kentucky Derby (G1) morning-line favorite after scores in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and a division of the Rebel (G2), Omaha Beach was scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis. Connections gave him the summer off to recover, and he resumed triumphant in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). The Dirt Mile (G1) became his preferred Breeders’ Cup option, but after finding himself further back early, Omaha Beach had to settle for a belated second as the even-money choice.

The Malibu pushed his record to 10-5-4-1, $1,651,800. Omaha Beach’s three Grade 1 titles put him into consideration for the divisional Eclipse Award, although Derby demotee Maximum Security’s Florida Derby (G1), Haskell (G1), and Cigar Mile (G1) may end up holding more sway for the electorate.

As a top-class son of War Front from an outstanding family, Omaha Beach has obvious stallion appeal. The $625,000 Keeneland September RNA is a half-brother to 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) champion Take Charge Brandi. Their dam, the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, is a half to champion Will Take Charge and Take Charge Indy. Omaha Beach’s second dam is therefore Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady, a multiple Grade 1 winner of more than $2.4 million herself.

Hall of Famer Mandella, aware of how little time he has left with Omaha Beach, commented on the moment with characteristic humor.

“He’s like a son; he’s better than a son. He makes me money; he doesn’t cost money. I thought about it a lot and I should have spoken to (owner) Mr. (Rick) Porter when he was a 2-year-old and suggest castrating him, and I still haven’t. He’s a great horse.

“He was supposed to run like this.

“I can’t think of one better (among his past stars), although he hasn’t been around long enough of those that stayed forever, Beholder and them, but probably the few times he ever got beat were my fault.”