Soon after Mike Smith rode War Academy in last Saturday's Arkansas Derby, in which the three-year-old son of Giant's Causeway broke stride and was pulled up, the Hall of Fame jockey was able to land a Kentucky Derby mount on Palace Malice, who finished second by a neck in the Blue Grass at Keeneland moments after the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
Garrett Gomez was aboard Palace Malice, but had a previous commitment on Vyjack for the Derby, so a door was opened for Smith, who is optimistic that fate might be in his corner for the Run for the Roses on May 4.
"I've seen a lot of guys pick up a horse at the last minute and win a Derby," Smith said. "(Chris) McCarron picked up Go for Gin two days before (in 1994), so I mean, it happens."
Not that winning the Derby is easy. When Smith captured his only victory in 2005, it was on 50-1 shot Giacomo. On the other hand, he still feels pangs of bewilderment over that one's sire, Holy Bull, who finished 12th in 1994 as the favorite prior to going on to be named Horse of the Year.
"It's a tough race to win," Smith asserted. "The best horse hardly wins the Derby. It's a mile and quarter for the first time, there's a lot of traffic and a lot of fans, things that the horses just aren't used to.
"There's a lot of energy in the air. Some horses pretty much run their race before it even starts. It's got to be in the cards. Everything's got to fall right, and you've got to have a talented horse on top of it.
"Holy Bull just wasn't himself that day, for whatever reason. Giacomo was a horse that had a lot of talent just to get the mile and quarter and the race really set up for him. There was a lot of speed in there and they went extremely fast and they paid for it. It certainly helped us.
"This year's crop seems to be real good. We'll know more as it goes on. There seem to be some very talented horses in there."
In other Derby news, Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents walked Thursday after working four furlongs on Santa Anita's fast main track Wednesday in :48 2/5.
"He worked great," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He walked today. He had a day off. He'll work a week from today and if he comes out of it well, he'll fly out a week from Saturday (to Kentucky)."