Michael Earl Smith (born August 10, 1965) is an American jockey who has been one of the leading riders in U.S. Thoroughbred racing since the early 1990s, was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003, and has won the most Breeders' Cup races of any jockey with 26 Breeders' Cup wins. Smith is also the second leading jockey of all time in earnings with over $312 million. In 2018, Smith rode Justify to the Triple Crown, becoming the oldest jockey to win the title at age 52.
Smith was born to George Smith, a one-time jockey, and Vidoll Vallejos in New Mexico; his mother was 19 years old at the time. The older of two sons, Smith's parents divorced when he was still a small child. Smith spent most of his youth on his maternal grandparents' horse farm where he began breaking horses at eight years old.
Smith began riding races in his native New Mexico at age 11, and took out a jockey's license at age 16 in 1982. In the ninth grade, Smith dropped out of Dexter High School. Shortly thereafter, accompanied by his paternal grandfather, he began riding a Midwestern circuit which included races at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago, Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha and Oaklawn Park Race Track in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
On January 13, 2019 Mike married Cynthia Naanouh at a private ceremony at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Sierra Madre, California.
In 1991, Smith became one of the few American jockeys to win a European classic by claiming victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas aboard Fourstars Allstar (some other American jockeys, notably Steve Cauthen and Cash Asmussen, had won European classics before Smith, but were based in Europe). Also that year he got his big break by becoming leading jockey in New York for the first of three years from 1991 to 1993, with 330, 297 and 313 wins, respectively. The following year, he rode his first Breeders' Cup winner, Lure, in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
The year after that, 1993, Smith truly arrived as a top jockey, setting a North American record for stakes wins in a year with 62. Among his highlights were a win in the Preakness aboard Prairie Bayou- who was later euthanized after breaking down in the Belmont Stakes while being ridden by Smith – and a successful defense of the Breeders' Cup Mile aboard Lure. That year, he won his first Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey, and also won an ESPY Award as top jockey. In 1994, he broke his own record for stakes wins with 68, 20 of them Grade I races. Several of those wins came while riding that year's Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year winner, Holy Bull. He also rode two winners in that year's Breeders' Cup, and again won the Eclipse Award as leading jockey. Smith went on to ride two Breeders' Cup winners in both 1995 and 1997.
In 1994, he was voted the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for "extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship".
The dangers of Smith's profession became evident in 1998, when he suffered major injuries in two separate spills. A broken shoulder in March took him out of action for two months. Then, in August, while leading the Saratoga meeting, he broke two vertebrae in his back, requiring him to wear a body cast for several months. He came back six months after the fall.
In 2000, he moved his home base from New York to Southern California. That year he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award that honors a rider whose career and personal conduct exemplify the very best example of participants in the sport of thoroughbred racing. In 2002, he served as the regular rider for his second Horse of the Year, Azeri. He rode Azeri to a win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and also rode Vindication to a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
In 2005, he rode 50–1 longshot Giacomo to victory in the Kentucky Derby. The win, Smith's first in the Derby, was something of a vindication for him. He was aboard Giacomo's sire Holy Bull, the 2–1 favorite in the 1994 Derby, but could finish only 12th after Holy Bull was bumped coming out of the starting gate.
In 2008, he added two more Breeders' Cup victories first in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Stardom Bound, and with the then 4-year-old Zenyatta in the Ladies' Classic. A year later, Smith returned to the Breeders' Cup with Zenyatta, this time to capture the Breeders' Cup Classic. Smith partnered Zenyatta to 16 straight victories of a 19-for-20 career that saw her become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races, and the richest female racehorse with the earnings of $7,304,580.
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 on April 7, 2012.
As he became older, Smith chose to ride fewer but more lucrative races, and his success in doing so, particularly his ability to stay calm in the most high-pressure races, earned him the nickname "Big Money Mike". In 2017, Smith became the 14th winner of the Laffit Pincay Jr. Award given by the Hall of Fame jockey it is named for. Recipients are given the award for having served the sport of horse racing "with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination, and distinction." "When we started this award back in 2004, Mike Smith was absolutely the sort of person we had in mind as one of our winners," Pincay said. "I only got to ride against him briefly out here, but I've followed his career over the years and he's been a model of consistency, class, and pure athletic ability. He's a star in all senses of the word and it is an honor to honor him."
In 2018, Smith became the rider of Justify, who, after winning two races with the horse in California, won the 2018 Kentucky Derby. In doing so, the horse broke the 136-year-old "curse of Apollo" by winning the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 years of age. The last time this feat was accomplished was by Apollo in the 1882 race.
Two weeks later, Justify and Smith won the 2018 Preakness Stakes and then, on June 9th, 2018, at the 150th Belmont Stakes, Justify, ridden by Smith, became the 13th Triple Crown winner. In doing so, Smith, at age 52, became the oldest jockey to win a Triple Crown.
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- "Mike E. Smith. –Jockey profile". Equibase. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
- "Leading Breeders' Cup Jockey Stats". Breeders' Cup. October 21, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
- "All Time Leaders – Jockeys". Equibase. January 26, 2018. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
- Layden, Tim (December 28, 2014). "The jockey's jockey and the Breeders' Cup". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Smith, Toby (May 21, 2005). "Horse Racing: Mike Smith, Born to ride". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Milbert, Neil (June 25, 1987). "Injury Was Good Break For Arlington Jockey". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Berkow, Ira (May 12, 1998). "Horse Racing; Smith, Returning Tomorrow, Plans on Preakness". The New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Whicker, Mark. "Jockeys Mike Smith and Gary Stevens Share a True Bond Born of Rivalry | Breeders' Cup". www.breederscup.com. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Genaro, Teresa (October 31, 2017). "Jockey Mike Smith And The Breeders' Cup: History In The Making". Forbes. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- Shinar, Jack. (April 7, 2012) Smith Teams With Amazombie for Win No. 5,000. BloodHorse.com. Retrieved on 2015-12-04.
- BloodHorse Staff (August 5, 2017). "Mike Smith to Receive Laffit Pincay Jr. Award". Blood Horse. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
- Mellisa Hoppert (May 6, 2018). "Justify Wins Kentucky Derby, Conquering Rain, Mud and a 136-Year Curse". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
- Clarke, Liz (June 9, 2018). "Justify triumphs in Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown". Washington Post. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- BloodHorse Staff (December 28, 2019). "Omaha Beach Wins Malibu Under Record-Setting Smith". Blood Horse. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
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