Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith became the 25th jockey in racing
history to win 5,000 career races Saturday as he piloted the Bill
Spawr-trained Amazombie to victory in the Grade II, $150,000 Potrero
Grande Stakes at Santa Anita.
A 46-year-old native of Roswell, New Mexico, Smith, who won the
2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer and the 2011 Sprint with
California-bred Amazombie at Churchill Downs this past November, shares
the all-time record of 15 lifetime Breeders’ Cup wins with retired Hall
of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, also a native of New Mexico.
“This is really humbling,” said Smith. “It feels great to win
this race for Bill Spawr and 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. I was a little bit concerned at the
quarter pole today, but by the time I reached the eighth pole, I was
very comfortable. This horse is a champ.
“I feel really good and I’ll sleep well tonight. Just to be put
in that group of guys that have won 5,000, I’m just beside myself. I’ve
got Easter off tomorrow and I’m gonna go on an Easter egg hunt. I’ve
always had a lot of fun throughout my career and I wouldn’t change
anything, even the injuries.
“I can remember riding in El Paso with the wind blowing a
hundred miles an hour and I thought ‘this is the greatest place on
earth.’ I want to focus on getting good horses to ride and work hard at
it. I feel great and I’m still getting good opportunities.”
Amazombie, who came off a disappointing third-place finish in
his 2012 debut, the Grade II San Carlos Stakes on Feb. 25, stalked
pacesetter Roman threat and drew off to an authoritative ¾ length win,
getting the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.16.
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
and 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 at Santa Anita.
Smith’s Breeders’ Cup wins are highlighted by three victories in
the Breeders’ Cup Classic: aboard Skip Away in 1997, Zenyatta in 2009
and Drosselmeyer in 2011.
An upset winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, Smith
has won a total of three Triple Crown races. In addition to the 2005
Derby, he took the 1993 Preakness Stakes with Prairie Bayou and the 2010
Belmont with Drosselmeyer.
In addition to his multitude of prestigious stakes wins, Smith
has also had the distinction of being the regular rider of three Horse
of the Year winners: Holy Bull in 1993, Azeri in 2002 and Zenyatta in
In 1993 Smith set a North American record for stakes-won by a jockey, amassing an amazing 62 added money triumphs.
The son of a jockey, Smith took out his first jockey’s license
in 1982 and soon began to establish himself as a rider to watch in the
mid 1980s at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota.
His career took off when he moved his base of operations to New
York in 1989. Smith quickly established himself as a dominant force,
winning 14 riding titles at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga between 1991
Smith was also Gulfstream Park’s leading rider in 1994 and he led the 1994 Keeneland spring meeting as well.
Smith’s career was nearly ended in 1998, when he sustained a
series of injuries, the worst of which was due to a spill at Saratoga in
August, which resulted in two broken vertebrae. Forced to wear a body
cast, Smith was sidelined six months.
Smith is scheduled to ride next week at Oaklawn Park and will return to ride full time at Santa Anita on April 15.