In an old race track joke, a trainer watches his horse run last all the way around the track and then upbraids his jockey for not following instructions. "Why didn't you go to the front at the half-mile pole like I told you?" he demands. "Sorry," the jock says. "I wanted to stay with the horse."
If rider Greg Smith were not so polite and diplomatic, he might have given a similarly cheeky reply when trainer Dean Gaudet blamed him for not getting Mighty Appealing closer to the leaders in the Hutcheson Stakes. Gaudet was so critical of Smith's performance in that eighth-place finish that she replaced him and enlisted Vincent Bracciale Jr. to ride him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Monday.
"I like the boy and would have loved to see him stay on the horse," Gaudet said. "He'll continue to ride my other horses. But even he suggested we might want to try a different rider, and we've known Bracciale for a long time."
Smith had ridden Mighty Appealing throughout his successful 2-year-old season, but he and Gaudet knew that his future with the horse was uncertain at best. Any colt who is being pointed for the 3-year-old classics ought to have a jockey who is seasoned at that level of competition; Smith didn't have such credentials. Gaudet could have properly replaced him at the start of the season. But to replace him because of the Hutcheson is a bum rap.
"Mighty Appealing has always shown a great deal of speed," Gaudet said, "and we had planned on laying third. But he was back too far and then he had too much trouble. He got in traffic, and maybe the horse got a little disgusted."
That's not exactly the way a neutral observer would have interpreted the colt's performance. When the gate opened, Smith was asking Mighty Appealing for a response -- and not getting one. The colt wound up engulfed in heavy traffic on the turn because he wasn't able to show any tactical speed.
"I did the best I could to stay close," Smith said. "I didn't feel what happened was my fault or the horse's. Being taken off the horse is a disappointment, although realistically I figured that it was going to happen."
If Mighty Appealing wasn't the victim of a bad ride, then why did he run the first dismal race of his life? The clockers here haven't liked the way he has trained all winter, and it is very possible he has declined since his 2-year-old season. Gaudet said, "I think the clockers are disappointed because he's not a blistering work horse and never has been, unless you work him in company with another horse."
It is easily understandable that Gaudet would want to believe that Mighty Appealing was a victim of circumstances in the Hutcheson rather than to think he is no longer the swift colt on whom she has pinned so many hopes. She should know the truth after Monday, and the evidence is very likely to absolve Greg Smith of responsibility for the Hutcheson defeat.