In victory or defeat, Mike Smith keeps his perspective. The Hall of Fame jockey wassidelined more than five months with two broken vertebrae and spent time
in a body cast after a terrible spill at Saratoga in 1998 that
threatened his career, but it never crossed his mind that he wouldn’t
make it back.
Positive thinking and a well-balanced emotional state were
instrumental in Smith resurrecting his vocation and embellishing his
enviable resume that includes a Kentucky Derby victory on a 50-1 shot,
mounts on not one, but two females that were voted Horse of the Year,
Azeri in 2002 and Zenyatta in 2010, and 15 Breeders’ Cup wins, a record
he shares with Jerry Bailey. Last April, Smith became the 25th jockey in
racing history to win 5,000 career races when he rode Amazombie to
victory in the Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita.
The personable and articulate 47-year-old native of Roswell, New
Mexico, has an understated passion about the future. He is not looking
over his shoulder at Father Time.
Smith is the regular rider of 2011 Ladies’ Classic winner Royal
Delta, who, with a dominating victory in last Saturday’s Grade I
Beldame, stamped herself as a strong favorite to win another Breeders’
Cup race when the championship events are run at Santa Anita on Nov. 2
Smith also is commander in chief on horseback of 2011 Breeders’ Cup
Sprint champion Amazombie, who is expected to take a major step towards a
repeat performance on Nov. 3, but first must hurdle Saturday’s Grade I,
“Win and You’re In” Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
“The good thing about having been on top before is you know what it
takes to get there,” Smith said. “When I was hurt, I was willing to do
what it took to get healthy and fit. After that, it’s just about riding
well and trying to ride well each and every day, day in and day out.
This brings opportunities, and once you get them, you have to make the
most of them.
“It’s amazing. All it takes is one good horse to get you back out of
debt, out of a hole, out of a slumping career, out of just about
anything. Years and years of good horses have gotten men out of a whole
lot of trouble. For me, I think it started with Azeri when I first came
here after I was injured.”
Smith began riding in Southern California in 2001 and returned in
2007 after spending most of 2005 and 2006 back East. “I was blessed to
have ridden some great ones (Stardom Bound, Tiago, Prairie Bayou, Skip
Away, Unbridled’s Song, Lure and Holy Bull, to name but a handful)
before I got hurt, but the horse that got me back in the limelight was
certainly Azeri at the time.
“Then you go from a mare like her and you think, ‘God, will you ever
see another one like that?’ and up jumps a monster like Zenyatta, and
there you are. That takes you to some great places. I had some really
nice opportunities to ride some good horses for the Mosses (Jerry and
Ann, owners of Zenyatta) early on, winning the Santa Anita Derby with
Tiago and the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, and then Zenyatta.
“It’s surrounding yourself with the right people, doing the right
thing and getting the job done. Good horses take you a long way, that’s
pretty much what it is.”
Now the countdown is on for Saturday and Amazombie’s run in the Santa
Anita Sprint Championship, a race trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr and
his partner, Tom Sanford, hope leads to the $1.5 million XpressBet
Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“Amazombie is another horse that kept me going,” said Smith, who has
been represented by agent Brad Pegram since 2005. “When you get a chance
to ride a great horse like that for a great man like Bill, it’s just
wonderful. It’s good for the industry that people like Bill have a good
horse and know that he’s doing a good job with it, because he’s worked
hard for such a long time. It’s just tremendous.
“That makes it even more fun. I’m looking forward to Saturday.
Amazombie looks better than ever. He’s training well and if he goes into
the Breeders’ Cup in the right order, he could repeat. He’s that kind
The field for the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, which goes as
race eight on a 10-race program: Castletown, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1;
Amazombie, Mike Smith, 9-5; Coil, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Camp Victory, Joe
Talamo, 9-2; Capital Account, David Flores, 3-1; Jimmy Creed, Garrett
Gomez, 6-1; and Reneesgotzip, Corey Nakatani, 6-1.
Spawr called an audible on Amazombie’s “two-minute lick” that
had been scheduled for this morning and plans instead to do it Friday
morning. “It’s just my gut (feeling),” Spawr said. “I just feel more
comfortable doing it tomorrow, the day before (the race).
“He’ll go like from the three-eighths pole to the wire, between
40 and 42 or 45 (seconds),” Spawr said. “It’s like an open gallop, just
to open his lungs up, is all.”
Spawr shrugged off drawing the two hole. “He doesn’t care,”
Spawr said. “As long as he’s in there, that’s what counts. He’s such a
professional. Let’s get it on. No excuses.”