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Star jockey Smith now looking for Derby ride

In this March 16 photo, Omaha Beach, right, is ridden by Mike Smith while winning the second division of the Rebel Stakes. Omaha Beach, the early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, was scratched Wednesday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Mike Smith was perhaps the most coveted jockey for this year’s Derby after he rode Justify to the Triple Crown last year.

Smith could have ridden Roadster for Bob Baffert, the trainer with whom he’s most associated. Instead, he chose Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite he’d ridden to a commanding victory in the Arkansas Derby.

But when Omaha Beach had to be scratched Wednesday because of an entrapped epiglottis, the 53-year-old native of Dexter suddenly found himself looking for a ride as he seeks his third Derby win.

Which trainer would pull the trigger on a last-minute jockey switch? That question generated buzz all over the backside at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning.

Baffert said he wouldn’t do it, despite his affinity for Smith. When his favorite jockey chose Omaha Beach, Baffert picked Florent Geroux to take over Roadster.

Baffert said he would stick with that plan.

“I never thought of that,” he said when asked about a jockey switch.

Baffert said he called Geroux, just to reassure him there would be no change. “He says, ‘Are you taking me off boss?'” Baffert recalled with a grin. “And I go, ‘No, I’m all in, Flo.’ So we laughed. It’s one of those things where I would never do that to the riders.”

Two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, meanwhile, did not completely squash the idea that Smith might replace Corey Lanerie aboard Cutting Humor.

“We haven’t really discussed that yet,” Pletcher said Thursday morning. “Mike Smith’s open, so you have to think some people are thinking about that.”

He said he couldn’t add anything until he spoke with Cutting Humor’s owner, Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing, who has a longstanding relationship with Smith.

While Smith is without a mount for the Derby, he has three mounts on today’s card at Churchill Downs and five more Saturday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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