Jockey Mike Smith earned the 5,000th victory of his Hall of Fame career when he teamed with 2011 sprint champion Amazombie to capture the $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park April 7 (VIDEO).
He became the 25th rider to reach 5,000 victories. A race earlier, Smith, 46, moved within one win of the milestone when he rode favored Lady of Shamrock to victory in the $150,000 Providencia Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the turf.
“I’m really just beside myself right now," said Smith, a native of Roswell, N.M. "For it to happen on Amazombie is so fitting. Who could have drawn it up any better? I’m just really happy that I finally got to 5,000. Those last two wins were tough. I’m glad that I got it over with.
"It’s incredible," Smith added. "Just to get put in that group of guys that have won 5,000 I’m just beside myself. This is very humbling. I feel really good. I’ll sleep good tonight.”
Voted America’s Eclipse Award winning jockey in 1993 and ’94, Smith is regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of all time. He was the regular rider of the legendary mare Zenyatta, guiding her to the final 17 consecutive wins in her storied career, including a win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita.
Smith’s Breeders’ Cup wins are highlighted by two other victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: aboard Skip Away in 1997 and Drosselmeyer in 2011.
An upset winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with Giacomo, Smith has won a total of three Triple Crown races. He also took the 1993 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Prairie Bayou and the 2010 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with Drosselmeyer.
Smith has the distinction of being the regular rider of three Horse of the Year winners: Holy Bull in 1993, Azeri in 2002, and Zenyatta in 2010. In 1993 Smith set a North American record for stakes-won by a jockey, amassing an amazing 62 added-money triumphs.
He and Amazombie captured the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) last year and also won the Potrero Grande.
Amazombie, trained by Bill Spawr, was making his second start since taking the BC Sprint Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, sewing up an Eclipse Award as the nation's best sprinter. In his first start of the year, the 6-year-old California-bred son of Northern Afleet was third in the San Carlos Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs Feb. 25.
Amazombie, who was bred by Gregg Anderson, has banked $1,639,708 in his career. He is out of the In Excess mare Wilshe Amaze.
Sent off as the 13-10 favorite in a field of six in the Potrero Grande, the big gelding completed 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.16 on a fast track while defeating pacesetter Roman Threat by three-quarters of a length. The time was just over a second off the track mark set in January 2011 by Square Eddie .
Roman Threat, making just his second start for trainer Bob Baffert after a smashing debut win, went straight to the front for Martin Garcia and opened up a two-length advantage over the stalking Amazombie. Fractions were quick -- :22.05 and :43.95.
Amazombie, racing off the rail, came out a bit in the stretch to challenge Roman Threat at mid-stretch. He got the lead just past the sixteenth pole and prevailed under a strong hand ride from Smith.
“He’s back," Spawr said of the champ. "(Smith) only let him run a quarter mile, is all he did."
Spawr said Amazombie would next go in the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes for Cal-breds at Betfair Hollywood Park April 28, a race Amazombie also won last year.
“Amazombie’s stronger this year. He’s gained weight, but it was too much for the San Carlos going seven-eighths and I think now he’s at racing weight, what it should be. But he’s stronger, he’s got more muscle, better color, and probably weighs 60, 70 pounds more and it’s all muscle. I feel our goal this year is the Breeders’ Cup if we’re fortunate enough to get there, and this is our first step.”
Roman Threat finished one length in front of Camp Victory, ridden by Joe Talamo, who had earned his 1,000th victory a day earlier at Santa Anita.
Amazombie improved his record to 11-4-6 in 25 starts for Spawr, who owns the consistent bay along with Thomas Sanford.
The 123-pound high weight paid $4.60, $3, and $2.10, and keyed a $17.60 exacta. Roman Threat returned $4 and $3.20. Camp Victory, making his first start since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) last November, paid $4 to show.
Sway Away was fourth, followed by Mensa Heat and Thinking of Girls. Courtside and Thunder of Zion scratched.