Smooth Like Strait ventured outside his California barn once last year: for the Grade 1 Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He ventures forth again for Friday’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland, the featured race on that track’s Good Friday card.

Smooth Like Strait-Maker's Mark Mile
Smooth Like Strait won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile for his only 2021 victory. He is the favorite for Friday’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. (Image: Benoit Photo)

And according to his trainer, Mike McCarthy, this is a test of sorts for Smooth Like Strait’s next outing.

“His participation in this year’s Turf Classic depends on his race Friday,” McCarthy told Keeneland’s Amy Owens.

It’s not like Smooth Like Strait — the 2/1 morning line favorite for the Maker’s Mark Mile — embarrassed himself in last year’s Turf Classic. He finished third by a neck behind Colonel Liam and Domestic Spending, who finished in a dead-heat.

Then again, Smooth Like Strait doesn’t embarrass himself period. He hasn’t finished off the board in his last 10 races, dating to a fourth in the American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs in September 2020. He hasn’t

Smooth Like Strait puts himself regularly in the mix

The 5-year-old son of Midnight Lute is 3-6-1 in those 10 races — all of them graded stakes. Last year, Smooth Like Strait went 1-5-1 in seven races. Every loss came by a half-length or less.

The victory as the 7/10 favorite came in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita Park last May. That gave Smooth Like Strait his seventh career victory in 19 starts. Add in the more than $1.4 million in earnings and you get a solid, gritty turf runner due for another victory — if he doesn’t go out too quickly.

We saw that caveat play out in his last start: the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Smooth Like Strait commanded the Del Mar turf for seven-plus of the eight furlongs. But he couldn’t hold off a hard-charging Space Blues, who caught him inside of the final furlong and pulled away for a half-length win.

Four Grade 1 winner’s in the Maker’s Mark Mile

Space Blues isn’t in the Maker’s Mark field. But three other Grade 1 winners are: Brazilian-bred Ivar (6/1) and In Love (10/1) and Canadian-bred Count Again (5/1). In Love won the Keeneland Turf Mile last fall. Ivar captured the Shadwell Turf Mile in 2020. Count Again won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March.

Ivar (third), In Love (seventh) and runner up Smooth Like Strait were all in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. But McCarthy has another worry that goes beyond Smooth Like Strait’s penchant for going out quick.

“Weather is a concern. I can’t say I am crazy about participating on a soft turf course,” he said. mindful of thunderstorms pelting the Lexington area mid-week.

Smooth Like Strait finished fourth in his lone start on a less-than-firm course: the 2019 Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita.