Q&A With Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith
By Ciara Bowen
Like many children, Mike Smith dreamt of one day following in his father's footsteps, and as the son of a jockey those footsteps led straight to the racetrack. That profession, though full of risk, proved the right one for him.
Born in Roswell, N.M., Smith began riding races at age 11 and took out his license there in 1982 at age 16. Now—31,529 starts later—he finds himself a member not only of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, but of the ingoing class of 2014 for similar honors in his native state.
Smith became one of the most prolific Thoroughbred jockeys in the U.S. in the 1990s, and has rarely lacked for success since then. With two Eclipse Awards and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, he found himself at home on both East and West coasts, but finally settled in California.
He is the all-time leading Breeders' Cup jockey by wins with 20, and in 2005 rode 50-1 shot Giacomo to victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He also won the Preakness (gr. I) on Prairie Bayou in 1993 and took two editions of the Belmont (gr. I)—in 2010 with Drosselmeyer and in 2013 with Palace Malice. He was the regular rider for Holy Bull, Azeri, and Zenyatta, all outstanding equines who won Horse of the Year honors (for a full bio, visit his website).
The 49-year-old rider is still highly sought after and remains at the top of his game. Here, he talks about his love for racing and some of the horses he's guided throughout the course of his career. He will be inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame Feb. 23.
What was it like growing up riding in New Mexico?
Tell me about Santa Fe. You go home there to spend time with your family during the holidays?
What do you love most about New Mexico?
You grew up watching and riding with jockeys like Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. What was that like?
What jockey did you fear the most? Who do you fear now?
What advice would you give a young person trying to get involved in the industry?
Do you enjoy helping younger riders?
ABR Live just put out a video of your training regimen. You hit the gym pretty hard! What's your fitness program like?
With all of your accomplishments, what motivates you to keep riding?
Speaking of the horses, who is the best you've ridden?
Zenyatta always came from behind. Can you recall a big race where you thought you had no chance for a win, and the horse completely surprised you and turned on the gas?
"They do that a lot. There's been times they're so far back you think, There's no way! And then they explode and get up to win by a nose."
You go to the farm to visit Zenyatta now that she's retired. Have you done that with other horses?
Who are some of your favorites besides her?
You won the Kentucky Derby on Giacomo, a son of Holy Bull. What was it like to win the race on a son of such a highly regarded horse?
"Mizdirection? In one word? I'm not sure I can do it in just one word. I can do it in a few words. Mizdirection was unbeatable down the hill. It was her course. It was like sliding down an Olympic hill going 80 miles an hour. She just knew it so well. Palace Malice: talented. You haven't seen the best of him yet; he's going to be a really nice older horse. Game On Dude is a warrior. Royal Delta was incredible, beautiful. Bodemeister was just another who was extremely talented—very fast, with a lot of stamina."
You've been riding for over 30 years, yet almost all your Triple Crown race wins came in the last 10 years. Why?
Here's a question that came in from one of your fans on Twitter—on a sloppy track, who would you rather ride: Zenyatta or Inside Information?
You've ridden some champion mares in your career. In your opinion, is there anything that sets good mares apart from good colts?
Most underappreciated or lesser-known favorite horse?
You've been a part of some cool promotions as an athlete, from appearing in ESPN's Body issue to being a part of Animal Planet's TV series "Jockeys." What was it like to be on that show?
How do you hope people will remember you from both riding and personal standpoints as you leave your mark on the sport?
With all that you've accomplished in racing, do you think about a second career? What would that look like for you?
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