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Good Horses Keep Smith Going Strong

Jockey Mike Smith

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 and 3.

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 of horse.”

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.”

 

 

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