Jockey Smith has 2-in-$1 million shot 'Bayou'-Lure double may enrich weekend

ELMONT, N.Y. — ELMONT, N.Y. -- Mike Smith does great horse impressions.

The 27-year-old jockey widens his eyes, presses a finger on each side of his head and shows a group of writers how Prairie Bayou flattens his ears during competition.


He doesn't regard the animals as money machines, a friend said. But that's what a couple of these four-footed athletes could prove to be this weekend at Belmont Park.

Two of Smith's mounts, Preakness winner Prairie Bayou, the program pick in the Belmont Stakes today, and Lure, the heavy favorite tomorrow in the Early Times Manhattan Stakes, could each clinch a $1 million bonus.


The field of 14 horses in today's race is the biggest since 15 went to the post in 1983. Sea Hero, who will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, is the second choice, and Virginia Rapids, with Eddie Maple scheduled to ride, is the third choice.

The fourth choice is Cherokee Run, who will be ridden by Chris Antley while the jockey who rode him to second in the Preakness, Pat Day, serves a suspension for rough riding at Churchill Downs.

If Smith's mounts succeed this weekend, it would be the first time one jockey rode both $1 million series winners. Smith would become the first rider since Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1985 to win $2 million of thoroughbred bonus money.

Pincay was on Spend A Buck when he won the Jersey Derby eight years ago and completed a sweep of four races that also included the Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes and Kentucky Derby. The $2 million bonus was put up by Robert Brennan, operator of Garden State Park. The move provoked such a furor in the sport after Spend A Buck ducked the Preakness that the $1 million Triple Crown bonus was established in 1987.

Since then, the owners of six horses that have earned the most points in the Triple Crown series have been rewarded with $1 million.

It's not mandatory that they give 10 percent to the winning rider, but so far no one has bucked tradition.

In 1991, Early Times Distillery, which produces a Kentucky bourbon, established the Early Times Triple Turf Series. The three races are the Early Times Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, the Early Times Dixie at Pimlico and tomorrow's Early Times Manhattan at Belmont Park.

Smith picked up the mount on Prairie Bayou for trainer Tom Bohannan when he stayed at Aqueduct last winter and rode him in a series of minor New York stakes. Smith has only to finish ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero today to win the Triple Crown million.


Smith, the leading New York jockey for the past two years, arrived in New York after initial success at Kentucky and Arkansas tracks.

But he has not experienced the same kind of meteoric rise to riding stardom as a Kent Desormeaux. Instead, consistency is his hallmark.

"I liken him to a young Chris McCarron," said trainer Nick Zito, who put Smith on one of his first top 3-year-olds, Thirty Six Red, the 1990 Belmont runner-up.

"He has a different [riding] style, but he has Chris' work ethic."

Adds top young trainer Billy Mott: "Mike's consistent, day in and day out."

Bohannan said Smith is "patient. He listens to what I have to say. He adjusts to adversities if they develop in a race, and he's a strong finisher."


Smith is also still a hungry rider, eager to win an Eclipse Award like the Desormeauxs and McCarrons.

On his days off, he lifts weights to make himself stronger and improve his riding skills.

How is Smith reacting to the pressure of winning the $2 million in bonus money?

"I put it out of my mind," he said. "I have a job to do and that's to ride each horse in each of the races and try to win. After I do that, then I'll worry about whether or not we won the bonus."

How is he preparing himself mentally and physically for the weekend's races, particularly today's Belmont?

"I'm spending a quiet evening at home. No Belmont Ball for me," Smith said. "I'll catch the Bulls [-Knicks basketball playoff] game on TV. Then I'll get to bed and get out to the track about 9:30 a.m. It's one day I won't get on any horses in the morning."


NOTES: Weather forecasts in the New York area are calling for a 70 percent chance of rain today and are predicting from one-quarter to a half-inch of rain. Four Belmont starters are known to move up on a wet track. They are Sea Hero, Cherokee Run, Bull Inthe Heather and Wild Gale. . . . One Belmont starter turns 3 today. That's Arinthod, the European entry, who was a late foal, born on June 5. . . . The only equipment change listed in the Belmont Stakes is the blinkers that are being worn for the first time by long shot Only Alpha.