Mike Smith rode the winning horse, Justify, at this year’s Kentucky Derby. The 52-year-old has been one of the leading jockeys in the US since the 1990s, and tonight, he walked away the victor.
Read on to learn more about Mike Smith.
1. He Was Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003
Smith was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003.
The son of a jockey, Smith was born in New Mexico in 1965 and began riding horses at the age of 11. His professional career began in 1982, when he was just 16. Smith spent a great deal of his career traveling back and forth between the west and east coasts, and eventually decided to settle in California.
Asked by Blood Horse what it was like growing up in New Mexico, Smith says, “It was great. When I first started around there, I was pretty young. It taught me a lot. And I didn’t stay in New Mexico very long once I started professionally, but it got me the experience I needed to get me started anyway.”
Smith trains constantly and maintains a healthy workout regimen. He tells Blood Horse that he trains six days a week with a trainer, focusing on interval training. “I train everything. I run about two miles a day and then train for about an hour and that’s pretty much it.”
2. He Has Won 26 Breeders’ Cups
Smith has won the most Breeders Cup races of any jockey with 26 wins. In a 2014 interview with Pasadena Star-News before the Breeders Cup, Smith was asked what he looks for when choosing a horse. He said:
You’ve got to get on the right horses leading into it. What that look is, it’s so many different looks. They come in all colors and all shapes and sizes. Talent comes in a lot of different packages. It’s not necessarily just a look. It’s a horse with a lot of talent, that belongs in those types of races and that can compete at that level. It starts at the beginning of the year. Some of them are older horses, so you’ve known about them. On the whole you’re looking for a young, talented horse that has the bloodline. You know who’s who and what’s what. It’s like scouting for football players or the NBA, scouts all know, your agents know. It’s like almost any other sport in a way.
What gives him the motivation to keep riding? Smith says he loves horses. “I’m having more fun riding right now than I’ve probably ever had. I’m just so blessed to be riding some great horses for some great people, and I’m really enjoying it.”
3. He Is the Second Leading Jockey of All-Time in Earnings
Smith’s $306 million makes him the second leading jockey of all-time in earnings. Velazquez comes first with $383 million.
Aske by the Pasadena Star News how he performs so well under pressure, Smith said, “It’s a combination of things. My agent doing his job, getting me on the right horses. Once you’re in those high-pressure situations making very few mistakes and make the race go as smooth and as fluid as you can… It’s about slowing things down and really focusing on making it as smooth as can be. They’re already talented, all you have to do is give them the trip, Let them do their thing. I can’t pick them up and run with them, so they do all the running, we just make all the decisions.”
Asked if he has a certain routine before a big race, he says he does his homework leading up to the event, and may run a bit in the morning to loosen up. “… nothing drastic. Rest well the night before. We have a game plan, but be open to whatever may happen. It’s about just being patient and smooth.”
4. He Suffered Major Injuries in 1998
Smith suffered major injuries in 1998 after two falls. In March, according to Americas Best Racing, he was out for two months because of a broken shoulder. Five months later, another fall resulted in a broken back. Six months passed before Smith got back on a horse.
Asked by the Pasadena Star News what goes through his head during a race, Smith says, “So many things. You want your horse to get away well, get into a good rhythm.. Seeing if I’m following the right horse, is this horse going to take me where I need to go. See where you’re going to be able to get out if you need to. Seeing who’s weak, who am I going to be able to ease out or push out.”
He continues, “Believe it or not, when you’re really really focused, what happens in a split second, seems longer than you think. If you don’t speed that energy up, the picture becomes clearer and you’re able to adapt and make the decisions you need to make.”
5. He Has Received a Number of Accolades for His Riding
Smith has received a number of accolades for his work, including becoming an Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey in 1993 and 1994; receiving the 2000 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award; and being named the recipient of the Big Sport of Turfdom in 2010.
In the words of Americas Best Racing, “Mike Smith will always be remembered as the jockey of Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year. Smith rode the superstar mare in 17 of her 20 races…”
If he were to give advice to anyone in the industry, Smith says, “Find out what you want to do and surround yourself around the right people. They can really help you and teach you and be an influence on you. Find the right people to work with and to work for.”