That Smooth Like Strait is the 4/5 morning line favorite for Monday’s Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita Park is understandable on several levels.

Smooth Like Strait-22 Shoe Mile
Smooth Like Strait and Umberto Rispoli won last year’s Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, his last victory. The 5-year-old horse returns with Flavien Prat aboard as the 4/5 favorite for the Memorial Day race at Santa Anita Park. (Image: Benoit Photo)

Thirteen of them, to be precise.

That’s the string of graded stakes races the 5-year-old turf terror brings into the second of Santa Anita’s three Memorial Day Grade 1s. And in those graded stakes outings, dating back to the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar in August 2020 – which he won – Smooth Like Strait is 4-6-2. That’s four wins and 12 in-the-money finishes in 13 graded stakes, with only a fourth in the Grade 2 American Turf on the 2020 pandemic Derby undercard spoiling the run.

Take it back further. After running his debut on the dirt – and finishing 20 lengths back in ninth place — Smooth Like Strait ran 19 races on the grass. He’s missed the board only twice.

“It seems like he’s on top of his game,” trainer Michael McCarthy told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden.

He’s your defending champion here

He’s certainly close to it. Smooth Like Strait’s last of his seven career victories came in the Shoemaker Mile as the 7/10 favorite, 364 days and five starts ago. But since then, the son of Champion Sprinter Midnight Lute has four seconds and a third. That third came last out, when he was beaten by a nose for first and a neck for second at the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland.

The start before that, Smooth Like Strait led the Breeders’ Cup Mile until the final sixteenth, when European invader Space Blues reeled him in for a half-length victory. That was the margin of defeat to Mo Forza in his previous start: the Grade 2 City of Hope. And the start before that? Mo Forza beat him by a head in the Grade 2 Del Mar Stakes.

The last race in that near-miss string? A neck loss to United in the Grade 2 Eddie Read at Del Mar.

Smooth Like Strait always in the mix

So to recap: Smooth Like Strait hasn’t been further away than a half-length in his last four defeats: all graded stakes. He gets Flavien Prat on his back. Prat rode him in that debut, before Umberto Rispoli took the reins for his last 11 races.

Yes, there are five other candidates in the Shoemaker Mile, starting with Count Again (5/2). He comes in off his sixth in the Maker’s Mark Mile – a deceptively good finish considering he was 5 ¼ lengths back entering the stretch. He finished only 1 ¾ lengths back.

Count Again owns four wins in seven starts over a mile on the grass. That includes his nice stretch drive to win the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile two starts ago. Count Again came into the stretch 3 ½ lengths back in fifth. He surged forward to beat Space Traveller by a head.

Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile/Santa Anita Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Masteroffoxhounds, 5/1 (Juan Hernandez/Phil D’Amato)
  2. Count Again, 5/2 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Phil D’Amato)
  3. Heywoods Beach, 10/1 (Umberto Rispoli/John Sadler)
  4. Dance Some Mo, 15/1 (Kyle Frey/Phil D’Amato)
  5. Smooth Like Strait, 4/5 (Flavien Prat/Mike McCarthy)
  6. Restrainedvengeance, 6/1 (Edwin Maldonado/Val Brinkerhoff)

Count Again is one of three Phil D’Amato entries in the Shoemaker Mile field. The other one worthy of consideration is Masteroffoxhounds (5/1), who makes his debut in the D’Amato barn after coming over from Richard Baltas. He does have a win and second at a mile, although he is better at longer distances. That includes his runner-up by 1 ¼ lengths at 10 furlongs in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham April 30.

The Shoemaker Mile is the first Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series US race. It provides a “Win and You’re In” spot to the Breeders’ Cup Mile.