Commentary

What is Walter Smith thinking?

Updated: February 8, 2012, 2:44 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

"Luck" is a drama series airing on HBO that centers around horse racing and features Santa Anita Park in Southern California.

What was just scuttlebutt was confirmed when Hall of Fame trainer Walter Smith told the Daily Racing Form's Brad Free that he intends to give the talented but troubled Ronnie Jenkins the bulk of the mounts coming out of his stable when Jenkins returns from his umpteenth suspension later this month.

"There's no better jockey in America than Ronnie Jenkins, and that's all that matters to me," Smith said.

No better jockey in America? No one doubts Jenkins' talent. But there are a six or seven exceptionally talented jockeys on the Southern California circuit, all of them every bit as good as Jenkins, all of them more reliable than Jenkins, none of them with his checkered past. What's wrong with Joel Rosario or Rafael Bejarano? Or Martin Garcia?

Has Smith forgotten the 2002 Big Cap when Jenkins called in sick the morning he was supposed to ride the trainer's Noble Ability? With every other top rider at the track already committed to a mount he had to ride Lou (The Human Anchor) Perkins, who botched the ride and cost Noble Ability the race. Has Smith forgotten that Jenkins wasn't sick but was locked up in the Pasadena City Jail after being arrested for disturbing the peace the night before? Has Smith forgotten that Jenkins has been suspended eight times for substance abuse? That Jenkins lost his contract to ride first call for Sheik Rashid al Khali-Bin Maktoum because he threw up on Princess Mahifa at the 2007 Dubai World Cup party?

There's also a question of his fitness. Jenkins obviously spent more time at In-N-Out Burger than the gym during his absence and looks like he needs to lose about 30 pounds before getting down to a proper riding weight. He comes off suspension in 26 days. Will he be ready?

I'm not rooting against Jenkins. I hope he has finally conquered his demons and that he can get his career and life back on track. But Smith doesn't need to be his patron saint. Plenty of good horses come out of his barn and he's the type of trainer that can get a rider to the Kentucky Derby. Why take on Ronnie Jenkins and all his baggage? Let him be someone else's problem.

Turo is Trouble: Do the Santa Anita stewards, the California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita General Manager George Haines pay any attention to what is going on at their racetrack? One has to wonder after the latest shenanigans from trainer Turo Escalante.

When Mon Gateau won Jan. 14 after a two-year layoff the horse only had one published workout, three furlongs in :39.2. We know Escalanate is good, but no one is that good. Then the horse wins and pays just $24. On paper, he should have been 50-1.

But that's exactly what we've come to expect from Escalante. He'd rather put over a betting coup than win the Kentucky Derby, and those sorts of trainers are not good for the game.

There's no way that horse should have been allowed to run off just one three-furlong workout and racing officials need to call in Escalanate and the clockers and get to the bottom of what happened. If nothing else, the stewards need to tell Escalanate that they are tired of his act and put him on a short leash.

Ace Bernstein Sighting: Yes, that was indeed convicted felon Ace Bernstein in the Santa Anita paddock last Thursday. According to Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman racing officials were not aware that Bernstein was at the track that day and will look into whether or not he should be allowed to attend the races. You can argue that Bernstein, like anyone else, should have the right to go to the racetrack and enjoy himself, but he absolutely cannot be allowed in the paddock. Under California horse racing regulations only members of the media, racetrack officials and licensed owners and trainers are allowed in the paddock. Bernstein, a felon, is not licensed.

Micheaux is Hot: Apprentice Leon Micheaux had 12 winners in January at Santa Anita, including two trips to the winner's circle aboard the aforementioned Mon Gateau. At 5-foot-10, weight is clearly going to be a battle for Micheaux, but if he can keep the pounds off it looks like he could have a bright future. Micheaux comes from Cajun country but never rode at the bush tracks that produced so many future stars. By the time he was old enough to ride, the last of the bush tracks had closed. Micheaux said he first learned to ride by studying race tapes of his boyhood idol, Kent Desormeaux.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com