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Published on Nov 6, 2010
By Tom Law
The ashen and dirt-specked face of Mike Smith told the story of the day as the Racing Hall of Fame rider made what seemed like an eternal walk from the Churchill Downs main track back toward the paddock shortly after he finished second aboard Zenyatta in the $4,545,000 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) on Saturday.
Smith was greeted by encouraging cheers from fans that were still lined up along the paddock. The calls were mostly positive, ranging from "we still love you Mike," to "great ride, Mike," to "pick your chin up." Despite the positive words from the fans, Smith took all the blame for the loss on Zenyatta, officially a head decision to Blame.
"It hurts more than you ... than I can explain, just because it was my fault," Smith said, choking back tears in a post-race press conference. "She should have won, and it hurts."
Zenyatta was last through the homestretch the first time, around the clubhouse turn, and up the most of the backstretch, racing nearly 15 lengths behind the leader through the first half-mile and more than ten lengths back entering the far turn. She finally got in gear around the turn, picking off rivals while racing inside and outside of her opponents.
Smith said Zenyatta did not break particularly well or handle dirt in her face in the early stages.
"She just wasn't leveling out like I wanted to; the combination of the dirt hitting her face was a lot of it," Smith said. "Just left her with too much to do. I truly believe I was on the best horse today. If I had to blame anybody, it would be me."
Zenyatta finally found her best stride and looked like she might give the raucous crowd reason to celebrate wildly as she gained ground on the leaders every step of the stretch. Blame found his best stride, too, and dropped off Lookin At Lucky and Fly Down inside the furlong marker. Blame was clear still with 100 yards to go and had just enough to hold off Zenyatta to win.
"My hat's off to Blame," Smith said. "He ran an incredible race. He didn't fold, and I needed him to fold just a little bit but he didn't. He hung in tough. When I got her out, like I said, it was a gallant effort on her part. She made up a whole lot of ground. To only come up a nose short, it's pretty tough to swallow."