Big breakfast for big-money Mike ahead of Arrogate ride
Lewis Porteous has an early-morning catch-up with Mike Smith
They might call him big-money Mike but where breakfast is concerned he is just another man in the omelette queue.
With plate already loaded with beans, mushroom and a sausage, Mike Smith was waiting patiently in line to get his eggs.
Smith, who on Saturday has a very good chance to bag another beefy cheque when he rides odds-on favourite Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, was one of many familiar faces enjoying a glorious sun-drenched morning at Meydan’s pre-World Cup ritual that is breakfast with the stars, where the great and good of Flat racing - along with the odd celebrity - got a chance to soak up the atmosphere as the richest raceday in the world approaches.
“They put on quite a show,” said Smith, whose omelette was worth the wait judging by his empty plate. “They’re second to none, do everything first-class and the food is amazing. It’s a lot of fun to come out here.”
The real star (no offence Mike) on show this morning was out way before the linen-suit brigade arrived for breakfast, with Arrogate working on the main dirt track at 5.15am.
His trainer Bob Baffert explained over coffee that Arrogate can sometimes get hyped up but his temperament is impeccable as a scrum of photographers go mad for his portrait.
What marked him out from the other workers who follow was his long, lanky legs, which he uses with great finesse. Even at half-speed he covers the ground more efficiently that the rest.
While he is yet to sit on Arrogate in Dubai, Smith is happy with him because Baffert is, and as nice as this trackside gathering is, neither man can wait for Saturday now.
“He’s training extremely well but everyone else is saying the same thing,” said Smith. “You've got to go and run your A-race but given that opportunity, I think we could see something special on Saturday."
Smith, who has over 5,000 career wins to his name and more Breeders’ Cup races in the bag than than any other rider past or present, has somewhat surprisingly never won the World Cup.
At the age of 51 he is arguably riding better than at any other stage but acknowledges that time is running out to add Dubai’s greatest race to his collection.
“It would mean a whole lot to me," he said. "I’m getting to the back end of it so I don’t know how many more opportunities I have. If I’m going to get one this would be a great one to get. He’s a very, very special horse."
Explaining exactly how special, Smith continues: "It's that ‘It’ factor. No one knows exactly what that ‘It’ is but it's faster than the rest of them and it comes easier for him.
"It's like he's running down hill when everything else is running uphill at times – that’s how he makes it look sometimes. His mechanics are incredible and his wind; he can run, like, forever it seems."
Asked if the weight of expectation that comes with the ride on the highest-rated horse in the world ever plays on his mind, Smith gave a wonderfully honest answer.
"If you ain't nervous, you ain't ready," he said. "If you're not nervous then you shouldn't be doing it but it's how you use that energy, man, and I can't wait." Neither can we Mike.