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This Side Up: Omaha Beach: D-Day for Smith


Omaha Beach (inside) bests Game Winner in the Rebel | Coady

By Chris McGrath

In his quixotic way, the Mr Smith who goes to Washington believes that the only cause worth fighting for is a lost one. But the Mr Smith who today visits the 42nd President’s home state is interested only in a running mate who can exit the primaries on top.

As it happens, the political dexterity required of Mike Smith just now is not confined to keeping lines open to connections of both Roadster (Quality Road) and his mount in the GI Arkansas Derby, Omaha Beach (War Front). Because seniority has lately made him a weathervane for the proposal, ultimately abandoned, for an experimental abstention from the whip at Santa Anita yesterday.

Arguably Smith’s own professional longevity is itself instructive of the kind of cultural revolution sought by certain lobbies in the current, anguished debate over welfare. To the European eye, certainly, maintaining speed on dirt has always placed a lesser premium on the physical crescendo of “riding a finish” than racing on turf (or its cousin, synthetics), where horses are typically switched off before being urged into overdrive.

Between his longstanding devotion to conditioning and the way he nowadays manages his output, Smith can still bestride the American theater at 53. Even if he were not so secure against any physical advantage in riders half his age, however, experience would still buy him a length, mid-race, for every nose that might be gained by sheer prowess in the stretch.

And it is that seasoned judgement that makes him not only worth the wait for the Roadster and Omaha Beach camps, but potentially the key to the next name to be engraved beneath that of the Kentucky Derby winner who took even Smith to new heights last year.

Where younger riders make those critical, split-second decisions on the highly temporary basis that they know neither fear nor failure, Smith can instantly summon the closest match from an endless flipbook of parallel scenarios. That’s why he could sit so coolly on Roadster last week, watching Game Winner (Candy Ride {Arg}) take the scenic route-in pursuit of a leader whose stretch fuel was always in question-and only reaching for the whip halfway down the lane.

As a result, a closing Roadster goes to the Derby with a new string to his bow. Smith’s one concern will perhaps be that the horse’s brief education has been in such small fields: he has yet to be shoved off the sidewalk, as will very likely happen at some stage during the 20-runner Churchill stampede.

Today, reverting to the other colt to have beaten the champion juvenile this spring, Smith will once again be seeking a fresh dimension. In a field strong enough to make it unnecessary actually to win to advance his case, Omaha Beach must at least see out the race in a fashion that encourages Smith he can extend his brilliance over another furlong.

Certainly he has been working like a pretty fast horse. On the other hand, he galloped out the stronger when he saw off Game Winner in their Rebel division, when trying two turns on dirt for a first time. While his tactics could not have been more different, having opened up before the home turn, Smith showed exactly the same sangfroid in front that day as he would, way out the back, on Roadster last week. (In fact, he resorted only to a single flick of the whip late on.) On both Roadster and Omaha Beach, he saved ground and maintained his own rhythm so that both were still coasting as they entered the stretch, albeit one was clear and the other closing.

With plenty of competition likely up front today, Smith can again be relied on to deploy his mount’s energies evenly. That will not only give Omaha Beach his best shot in what is, after all, a $1 million Grade I race apt to decorate a future stallion brochure, but also preserve him from the kind of frenetic strain that could leave a mark so close to the Triple Crown series.

The key for Smith today is whether that tempo feels sustainable. Discussion of Omaha Beach’s pedigree has naturally centred on his grand-dam Take Charge Lady, a top-class runner whose equivalent achievements in her second career are unsurprising in a daughter of Dehere (by the great broodmare influence Deputy Minister). For Take Charge Lady was credited with a remarkable double when her son Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy) produced Long Range Toddy to win the other division of the Rebel.

But let’s not forget that Take Charge Lady is out of a Rubiano mare-just like Omaha Beach’s sire War Front. And Rubiano was a streak of lightning, near-white winner of races like the GI Carter and GI Vosburgh over 7f. Not, perhaps, the first name you’d look for 3×4 in a Kentucky Derby colt.

On the other hand, Rubiano was a half-brother to the dam of Tapit, Tap Your Heels-who was by a son of his own sire, Fappiano, in Unbridled. Their dam, in turn, was by a cooper-bottomed Classic influence in Nijinsky out of a sister to that vital fount of outcross blood, Relaunch.

Omaha Beach’s dam is by Seeking The Gold, who for a son of Mr P has proved able to summon useful reserves from his own broodmare sire, the mighty Buckpasser.

Perhaps, then, he should instead have been called Gold Beach. As it is, he has a name befitting a champion; and one commensurate, as such, with those adjacent. For his trainer’s wait for a Kentucky Derby sooner demeans the race, than the other way round. And then, of course, there’s the rider.

The namesake who went to Washington was Jefferson Smith, pinning as much on his birth certificate as the William Jefferson Clinton who went there from Arkansas. But plain Mike Smith, bearing the most anonymous of all names, could not bring greater distinction to the casting vote between Roadster and Omaha Beach.

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