After over 40 years in the saddle, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith remains at the top of his game. To date, the 54-year-old (as of today — happy birthday, Mike!) jockey has 26 Breeders’ Cup wins, the winner of two Eclipse Awards, and an Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award. Mike has won horse racing’s largest races including two Kentucky Derbies, two Preakness Stakes, and three Belmont Stakes and has piloted some of the best-known Thoroughbreds like Unbridled's Song, Arrogate, Bodemeister, Zenyatta, Songbird, and 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify. And he’s not done yet.
Get up close and personal with one of the greatest jockeys of all time in our 20 questions quiz.
1. What is your idea of a perfect ride?
Winning! I’ve often wanted to ride that perfect race, where everything I did was 100%, but I’ve learned I’m not meant to be perfect.
2. What do you think is an underrated aspect of horse racing?
How well we take care of the horses.
3. Who do you think is the most influential trainer at the moment?
You’d have to say Bob Baffert. It’s just incredible he’s won two Triple Crowns and has come within heads and noses of winning four or five.
4. Who is your favorite horse at the moment?
McKinzie (four-year-old colt, with seven wins out of 12 starts and $2,238,560 in earnings).
5. Which racetrack do you enjoy riding at the most?
In California: Santa Anita and Del Mar. In New York: Belmont and Saratoga. I love Lexington, Kentucky, and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. All special for different reasons.
6. You got married this year. Besides the people in attendance, were there any equine touches at your wedding?
I let my wife do the whole wedding, and she isn’t really from the track, but we did have special horseshoe chocolates with horse heads in them.
7. What is your favorite sport besides horse racing?
Football! I’m a Jets fan but blessed to know so many people in the industry, so I always cheer for my friends who are playing.
8. What talent would you like to have?
I wish I could sing. If you get a couple glasses of wine in me, I think I can sing.
9. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement
That I am still here and competing at the level I am. When I stop and think about it I get emotional.
10. If you could ride an American Pharaoh baby or a Justify baby, who would you pick?
Of course, Justify.
11. What is your most treasured possession?
12. Who is your greatest mentor?
I have been blessed to have incredible mentors. At a young age Pat Day was a huge influence and then as I got older Gary Stevens was like an older brother to me.
13. What’s something you find difficult about horse racing?
How we get the sport to grow. It’s a wonderful game that supports cities, communities, and a wide range of people.
14. If you had a movie made about you, what would it be called?
15. What is your favorite historical moment in horse racing
If it involved me, I’d have to say when Zenyatta beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic [in 2009]. It was the first and only time that a girl beat the boys in that race. It was the day the ground shook in California, and it wasn’t because of an earthquake.
16. How would you describe a racehorse breaking from the starting gate?
It’s a rush. They go from 0 to 40 mph in about three strides. It’s power. You better be ready.
17. What is your go-to pump up song?
I don’t really listen to music before I ride, but I do love music. Merle Haggard will always be my favorite country artist, and I’ll always be an Elvis Presley fan.
18. What do you want to start, stop, and continue in 2019?
As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten grumpier. I’d like to stop being so quick to anger. I’d like to continue to stay healthy.
19. What are your goals for 2019?
To be a better me. I’ve been so blessed in this industry, and after last year’s success I’d like to do it all over again.
20. What is your life motto?
Be good and be kind.
Feature photo by Mike Lizzi.