If it’s possible to ride into a Grade 1 race in form – riding into that race with two losses – Smooth Like Strait comes into this year’s Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita Park in perfect form.

Smooth Like Strait-Shoemaker
Smooth Like Strait is the 4/5 favorite for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on Santa Anita Park’s Memorial Day card. (Image: Benoit Photo)

Yes, Smooth Like Strait finished third in his last start, the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Yes, the 4-year-old Midnight Lute progeny finished second the race before that, the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita.

And yes, Smooth Like Strait lost both those races by a collective long neck. That’s two neck losses in two Grade 1s, running against the Colonel Liams, Domestic Spendings, Ivars and Digital Ages of the turf world.

This explains why Smooth Like Strait headlines a six-horse contingent in the Shoemaker Mile. One of three Grade 1 stakes on Santa Anita’s packed Memorial Day card, the Shoemaker Mile draws its name from iconic jockey Bill Shoemaker. You deserve a Grade 1 race named after you when you win 17 consecutive winter/spring riding titles and set the Santa Anita standard with 260 stakes victories.

Breeders’ Cup is a shoo-in for the Shoemaker winner

The Shoemaker Mile, meanwhile, doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge race. This sends the winner into the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar with all entry fees paid. It marks the first US Breeders’ Cup Challenge event of 2021.

Smooth Like Strait’s resume warrants that company. Since winning the Grade 2 Twilight Derby at Santa Anita last October, the Mike McCarthy charge hasn’t missed the board in five starts. He’s 2-2-1 in those five starts – all in graded stakes.

Take it back further and Smooth Like Strait’s consistency shines brighter. Going back to last Feb. 29, when Smooth Like Strait finished second in the Listed Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita, he’s got four wins, three seconds and a third in nine races. The one “burp,” as it were, was a fourth in the American Turf Stakes last September on the Derby undercard.

Smooth Like Strait comes in smooth and solid

That consistency made Smooth Like Strait the favorite in six out of his last seven starts. His ability won three of those races. His 100 Beyer Speed Figure from the Turf Classic is the best last-out Beyer in the Shoemaker Mile field.

All of this – along with turf riding maestro Umberto Rispoli aboard — explains why Smooth Like Strait is the 4/5 morning-line favorite. It doesn’t, however, account for his likely chief rival – Say the Word (4/1).

Another paragon of consistency, the More than Ready son is more than ready for the Shoemaker. He’s found the board in six of his last seven races (3-1-2), dating to last August’s win in an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga. He too, tangled with some of the older male turf stars: Colonel Liam, Arklow, Channel Cat, United and Red King.

Can Say the Word speak loudly at a mile?

Last out, the 6-year-old gelding took the Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland April 17. That came over 1 ½ miles. He finished second over that same distance in his previous start, the Grade 3 San Luis Rey.

The Shoemaker marks the first time Say the Word cuts back to a mile since he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park. That came 20 months and 14 starts ago.

“He’s just really sharp right now. I don’t have to ship him; it’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ and I’ve got Flavien Prat to ride,” trainer Phil D’Amato told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “All those are positives.”

The pick: Smooth Like Strait. Because of that consistency and form, there’s no value here from an individual standpoint. So either put him in horizontals with Say the Word or include him in exotics.

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