LOUISVILLE — His is a mantle filled with virtually every achievement a jockey can earn: victories in all three classics, 13 Breeders' Cup triumphs, the honor of guiding a Horse of the Year and a spot in Racing's Hall of Fame.
Mike Smith's career is missing almost nothing. Yet, he would give it all up for the sake of having his favorite girl get one last accolade.
"I know how important this is," Smith said on Wednesday. "I would give anything I've done in my career up for this. I would give it all up just for this one race."
For all the pontificating on what significance a second straight win in the Breeders' Cup Classic would mean for undefeated champion Zenyatta, Smith's declaration sums up what is on the line for the most popular horse in racing.
Zenyatta's 19-0 record might have secured two Eclipse Awards for champion older female and a place in racing history, but it hasn't earned her the Horse of the Year title that is considered a necessity if she is to be included on the Mount Rushmore of racing.
In 2008, the year she won her first Breeders' Cup race by taking the Ladies' Classic, the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry lost out to reigning Horse of the Year Curlin despite his defeat in the Classic. (Curlin had already won the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap, Woodward Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup.)
Although Zenyatta became the first female to win the Classic last season, it was the brilliant 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra and her three wins against males in the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Woodward that prevailed in the heated race for year-end honors.
A second straight win in Saturday's Classic would put an end to that frustration for the Zenyatta camp. It would give her a second win over males, this time on dirt — credentials that could make her a unanimous choice in the 2010 Horse of the Year balloting.
Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, plainly stated a couple weeks ago that even if the big mare should falter Saturday, she deserves Horse of the Year based on her career body of work and the impact she's had on the game.
Some of her rivals disagree.
"This is Horse of the Year 2010, so any accomplishments you had in 2009 don't count," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle multiple Grade I winner Quality Road in the Classic. "This is about 2010 and here it is, all on the line.
"If she wins, there is no question. But to me, if Quality Road wins, there is no question, either. And if (Grade I winner) Blame wins, to me is the favorite for it. This is why this race was designed, to determine things like that."
The Horse of the Year race is more of a four-horse battle than a foregone conclusion.
Edward Evans' homebred Quality Road has won four graded stakes this year, including Grade I wins in the Donn Handicap, Metropolitan Handicap and Woodward Stakes — a more-than-worthy résumé should he win the Classic.
Much the same could be said of Blame, the Al Stall Jr.-trained late bloomer who beat Quality Road in the Grade I Whitney Handicap after previously taking the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill in June.
Though he lost twice in his first three starts, including a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky would also establish himself as the Horse of the Year favorite should he best his elders for his sixth career Grade I win.
Lookin At Lucky has gone on to a 4-length win in the Grade I Haskell Invitational and most recently won the Grade II Indiana Derby on Oct. 2.
"She (Zenyatta) has to win," Bob Baffert, trainer of Lookin At Lucky, said of the Horse of the Year race. "Only because they sort of stayed in California with her and didn't really venture out. She has to win here on the dirt. She did it last year, she was phenomenal, but she did it on a synthetic track so there's always going to be that question mark.
"If she does it here on dirt, on these grounds, that's what it's all about. But she's supposed to win, so I don't think they're worried about it, they're pretty confident."