One of the most successful—and oldest—jockeys in history teams with a horse named Justify to earn thoroughbred racing's 13th Triple Crown.
- Posted on Jun 9, 2018
Horse racing is a young man's sport; well before they reach their fifties, most elite jockeys have retired, turning in their silks for another field of endeavor.
But not 52-year-old Mike Smith. On June 9, 2018, the much-decorated jockey earned the biggest prize of all in thoroughbred horse racing, riding to a wire-to-wire victory in the 150th running of New York's Belmont Stakes. After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in the weeks prior, Smith's mount, Justify, became just the 13th horse in history to win the Triple Crown.
A man of modesty and faith, Smith could be heard immediately following his Belmont win expressing gratitude to God, while he was still atop Justify, and that's nothing new. He is always quick to give thanks for his blessings and to defer credit for his success to his horses, his trainers, the horses' owners and yes, the Man Upstairs.
When asked in 2010 by Mary Buckheit of ESPN.com if he had lucky socks or preferred silk colors, Smith said, "I believe in God, so superstition stays out of my ritual. I pray. I just pray. And in praying I'm not praying for me to win; I'm praying for the opportunity to perform at my best and to get the chance to succeed."
The son of a jockey, Smith rode his first races in his native New Mexico when he was just 11 years old and by 16 had his jockey's license. From 1991-93, he was New York's top jockey, winning 330, 297 and 313 races in those years, respectively.
Smith was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003 and perhaps just as impressive, he was presented in 1994 with the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for "extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship." And now, to those laudable accomplishments, he has added the Triple Crown, which will stand as his defining achievement.
Though Smith is undeniably blessed with natural talent, he works harder than most of his competition to keep in shape, working with not just one but two elite personal trainers. One of them, Brian Killion, who has also trained NFL. players, told The New York Times, "I’ve never had anyone as well conditioned as this guy. If I trained the way I train him, I’d pass out.”
It hasn't all been smooth sailing for Smith. In 1998, he twice suffered major injuries in falls. In March of that year, a broken shoulder caused him to miss two months of action and five months later, he suffered a broken back. It was six months before he was able to get back on a horse.
But Smith's perserverance, talent and faith saw him through those dark days and now he is, by a margin of 12 years, the oldest Triple Crown winner in history.
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