Mike Smith Podcast - Listen Now!

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I want to welcome everyone to BloodHorse.com’s Talkin’ Horses.  Our guest this week is Jockey Mike Smith, probably doesn’t need much of an introduction after the fabulous ride in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last weekend, but a little bit about Mike.

He is from Roswell, New Mexico, living in California right now.  He has ridden 53 Grade I races, won 53 Grade I races, won Eclipse Awards in ’93 and ’94, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.  And you’ve had the pleasure of having ridden three horses of the year, Holy Bull,  Skip Away and Azeri.  

Mike, I want to welcome you.  Thank you for joining us on Talkin’ Horses.

Mike Smith:  Thank you.

Eric Mitchell (Editorial Director of The Blood-Horse):  The format we have at Talkin’ Horses is we solicit questions from people, from the visitors of Blood Horse.com and as you might imagine, we were inundated with questions about Zenyatta.  It’s all Zenyatta.  I can’t imagine that you have talked about much else over the last week or so, is that probably a fair question?

Mike Smith:  Oh, yeah, more than fair.

Eric Mitchell:  The first question I have is from a guy who identified himself as Rich C, and he was just wondering, what does it feel like turning for home on a machine as he describes like Zenyatta?

Mike Smith:  It’s incredible.  I wish you all could get the opportunity to feel what it feels like. It’s as if she’s just there hitting the ground two or three times and she’s just doing it once and just running by them.  It’s amazing.

Eric Mitchell:  Now, when did you – I had a question from someone who wanted to know – when did you first meet Zenyatta?  When did you get introduced to her?

Mike Smith:  Before she ever ran, I worked her once at Delmar before she ever ran.  It was a couple of years ago.

Eric Mitchell:  And what was the impression at the time?

Mike Smith:  Before she ever ran, we knew she was something special.  We didn’t – I mean, we didn’t know it was going to be Zenyatta but we certainly knew there was something there.

Eric Mitchell:  When you first get on a horse, what is it that you feel as that horse is underneath you that tells you this horse has what it takes?

Mike Smith:  Well, balance means a lot to me.  I have always seen the real good ones have unbelievable balance; they’ve just got a beautiful way of getting over the ground, there’s nothing wasted about it.  And for as big as she is, you would think she’d be a little clumsy but she’s just so balanced and then when she pushes, there’s so much power there that goes with it.  It’s just amazing.

Eric Mitchell:  Amy Rooney wanted to know – Does it rattle you at all when she does that little dance that she’s doing on her way to the track?

Mike Smith:  No.  There’s a Spanish song I always listen to before I ride her and it sort of reminds me of her dancing to this like Spanish music.  It’s kind of neat, I think.

Eric Mitchell:  I mean that’s a good description; it does kind of seem like some kind of choreographed dance for her.

Mike Smith:  Yeah.  She warms herself up that way, too.  She stretches, she’s getting loosened up because I don’t warm her up.  I don’t warm her up before she runs.

Eric Mitchell:  I had a question from Drew.  He wants to know – As a jockey, do you go through a period of mourning when you’ve had such a great horse like Zenyatta and she gets retired?

Mike Smith:  Well, it’s sad that you’re not going to ride them anymore but her going undefeated and then winning the classic like she did, it made everything okay.  You can let her go now.  She’s done it all.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, there’s no question, she doesn’t have anything left to prove.  In that race – I had a question from Christi who wanted to know kind of what was going through your head when it was just Zenyatta and Gio Ponti coming down the stretch?

Mike Smith:  At that point, once I got cleared and I mean she just dropped down to another gear, I was like – I can’t believe she’s going to do this against the best, older horses in the world.  She’s going to do it again without me getting to the bottom of her.  I mean, it was just … I was just in awe, I couldn’t believe it, what she could do was just amazing.  And the crowd, that was the first time I think I’ve ever really – the crowd was so loud.  It was incredible.  I’ve never seen nothing like it.  And they stayed that way for a good 10 minutes, it seemed like.  It was a pretty wild day.

Eric Mitchell:  You’ve had your share of Kentucky Derbies as well, how did the noise at Santa Anita compare with the crowd on Derby day?

Mike Smith:  Well, Derby day is certainly loud too but Churchill is so big and long, I mean you just kind of hear muffled noise all the way around, you know, where this was this compact right there, just like, bam, you know, I mean, it could almost knock you off your horse, it  seemed like.

Eric Mitchell:  Did the race pretty much unfold like you expected?

Mike Smith:  I wouldn’t want to change it now because…

Eric Mitchell:  No, obviously.

Mike Smith:  …we’ve already –  I tell you what, I wasn’t expecting to get away that slow.  I mean, she literally spotted them four or five lengths leaving the gate.  So I knew at that point, I said, oh god, all the times to do it, why today?  And then, I knew I was going to have to try and cut some corner somewhere and I was just very blessed with a great trip after that, you know.

Eric Mitchell:  You seemed at coming out of the turn on top of the stretch, there is a decision to go inside or outside at that point, was there a decision there to make?

Mike Smith:  Yeah, I mean, you can actually see me – I was going to split them and then as I was going to do it, I pointed her in that direction.  I was going to do that, then I saw that the rider on the outside pick up his right hand.  So I knew that when he hit this horse, he’s probably going to go in some and sure enough, he did.  I just skipped right out as he did it.  At the same time he did it, I was on the outside by the time he even did it.  So it was quick.

Eric Mitchell:  Great anticipation.  Great decision.  John Leech wanted to know – at what point did you feel like you had the race, that it was just a certainty?

Mike Smith:  Well, nothing is a certainty until you get on by them.  But I felt really confident at the 3/8 pole that I could get there, I just needed to find somewhere – somehow to get there but I knew I had the horse.  She was loaded and she was going to run huge.  At the 3/8  she was just gobbling the ground.  And once I headed for home and as I saw that rider pick his right hand up and I skipped to the outside, I knew then that she’s – because once I did that and I got after her a little bit.  I mean she just had gears that are never ending.  I mean, it was just like bam, bam by them and up come the ears again, you know.

Eric Mitchell:  At least on television and to viewers, it almost looked effortless.  I mean, she really… when you said you didn’t get to the bottom to her, it just looked like the race didn’t take that much out of her.

Mike Smith:  Galloping out, she galloped out probably 10, 15 in front of everyone and then I mean, when she stopped and picked her head up and was looking at the crowd because they’re making so much noise and then she turned around and started dancing again.  It didn’t take nothing out of her.

Eric Mitchell:  I have a question here from Mike, who – he almost feels a little cheated because he didn’t get a chance to see Zenyatta race against males earlier in the year.  Do you know if there had been any discussion about her running in any other races like the Gold Cup?

Mike Smith:  I mean, there were always discussions on different races.  The main thing that we were pointing towards was the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  I mean that’s what you wanted to win.  If we could get there… surely, the Ladies Classic, I thought too but I mean, the main thing was always the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Eric Mitchell:  Lots of discussion right now about Zenyatta versus Rachel Alexandra, and the second race, if you will, for horse of the year.  You want to weigh in on that argument at all?

Mike Smith:  You know, I mean it’s up to the voters.  I mean, I can sit here and tell you why I know Zenyatta is Horse of the Decade but that’s just my opinion.  I think if you just see that way that she beat – I mean, she didn’t just beat she didn’t just beat colts, I mean she beat the best, the best of the best, and the best race that there is that the championship decides it, and she went out there and she won it.

Not only did she win it, she won it without getting to the bottom of it at all.  She went undefeated this year.  She carried 129 pounds, I think probably the only horse that won a Grade I carrying 129 and did that with ease.  I mean, she just – look at the mare that won the ladies classic, I beat her three times.

Eric Mitchell:  Right.  Well, I think it’s…

Mike Smith:  I mean, taking nothing away from Rachel, I mean, she’s an incredible, incredible filly but I wish she would have been there.  I really do.

Eric Mitchell:  And I had a comment from someone who only identified themselves as a Zenyatta fan.  That said, if Tiger Woods doesn’t show up for the Masters’ and he doesn’t get to be golfer of the year… so you know, it would have been nice to see Rachel in the Breeders’ Cup.  You know, everybody has to do what’s right by their horse.

A couple of people had noticed that after your win that you had crossed yourself after the victory.  A question from Sue wanted to know how much your faith plays, or does it play a bigger role in your life, in your career.

Mike Smith:   Everything in my life… it played a huge part in that race because let me tell you something, I’ve never ever felt pressure like that.  I mean, you can add up all the Derby and the Grade I and all the other Breeders’ Cups and they still wouldn’t amount to as much pressure as I was feeling.  I basically just had to pray and just leave it at his hands and say I know that you’re going to lead the way.  I just left it to him and I was able to ride a great race doing that.  I was able to think clearly and know that he’s going to be there at all times.  And it was there.

Eric Mitchell:  I don’t think there’s any question about that.

One thing, a personal question; just after the race, the cameras spent quite a bit of time showing just you sitting on Zenyatta on the track, just the two of you, kind off by yourself kind of soaking in the moment.  What goes through your head at that moment?

Mike Smith:   Every kind of emotion that you could possibly think of.  Everything great.  And extremely, extremely, extremely relieved.

Eric Mitchell:  There was definitely a look of joy, man.  

Mike Smith:  I did it, you know.  I didn’t let her go unbeaten.  And then to go unbeaten and beat the best boys, it was just incredible.  You couldn’t write a greater story, I don’t believe.

Eric Mitchell:  I have a question here from Michael.  He wants to know – Do you have any pre race rituals that you go through before you ride a race?

Mike Smith:  Not… I mean, you know, I’ve certainly done my homework and I know what’s out there.  I know what the competition is and at least have some idea what I believe is going to happen.  And then I say a prayer that everyone’s safe and we get the opportunity to do what we know what to do and that’s all you can ask for and I go out there and ride.

Eric Mitchell:  I got a lot of questions, a lot of people wanting you to compare Zenyatta with other great horses that you have ridden – Holy Bull or Azeri or Skip Away.  Does she compare or maybe you can kind of speak to some or all of them, how she compares with some of the other greats you’ve ridden?

Mike Smith:  I mean, like you said, you named a few there, and in their time, they were unbeaten, they were unbeatable.  Whatever made them what they were was what they had.  Holy Bull with tremendous speed and could carry a long ways but I’ve never ever been on a horse that can just run down anything at anything at any time, any place… You ask her – in a matter of jumps, she can make up 10 links like now.  I’ve never seen that before.

Eric Mitchell:  Not in any of these other horses that you’ve ridden.

Mike Smith:  No.  I mean they could make up ground and they’d come rolling and run down but I’ve never felt the power that she has.  It overcomes anything I’ve ever been on.

Eric Mitchell:  I have a question from Mitch Robbins.  He was wondering about Zenyatta’s turn of foot on other surfaces.  She did run on the dirt at Oaklawn Park.  Is there any comparison to kind of how she reacts, how she gets that turn of foot, whether it’s synthetic or dirt?

Mike Smith:  She will certainly run over anything just because she is who she is.  But the stronger she’s ever felt I thought was actually on the dirt where she was going to Oaklawn Park and Ginger Punch was about 15 in front of me, going in – they were all going about three and half.  She was about 10 to 15 in front of me and I thought oh, my god, I’ve left her way too much to do.  How am I going to do this?  And I tapped her on the shoulder twice and I went from thinking that to thinking oh, god, I’m going to hit the front way too soon.  

That’s the kind of turn of foot she has.

Eric Mitchell:  Wow.

Mike Smith:  It was just incredible.  And then everyone in that race, in the Apple Blossom in that race, all came back and won, every single horse, even the horse that ran last.  The next time out, two of them come back and won Grade I, the rest have all won stakes and the one that ran dead last won an allowance race the next time out.

Eric Mitchell:  That’s an amazing – now that’s a deep field.  No question about it.

I got a question here from Sue Mattingly who said, she thought you did a great job riding Vindication and see that you are now riding Crisis of Spirit, daughter of Vindication.  Any similarities between the two horses?

Mike Smith:  You know, I found that some of Vindications that I’ve ridden were pretty hot blooded, they’ve kind of got their … their grandfather came out in them.  And Vindication himself was a cool horse.  I mean, he was just laid back, he was just beautiful.  And Crisis of Spirit is a lot like him, she has the same attitude.  The only thing is she’s really fast.

Eric Mitchell:  Yes.

Mike Smith:  I mean, she’s lightning quick, out of the gate.  And I got her to rate the other day a little.  So I’m hoping in doing that down the road, we can go long at some point.

Eric Mitchell:   We all look forward to that, to watching her to grow into what she’s going to become.

I got a question here from Paul Langner.  He says – When you’re on a 2 year old, what does that two year old have to show you mentally, as well as physically, that would convince you that he’s of stakes quality horse?

Mike Smith:  Mentally is, believe it or not, half the battle.  They don’t have the mind to go with that ability; they just waste it all pretty much.  They’ve definitely got to have… I mean, they can be hot blooded and aggressive but still keep their mind intact.  I mean there’s a difference when one just loses it.  So yeah, having a good head on your shoulder is like I said, I think it’s half the battle. You could probably beat more talent with just using your head than having the raw ability.  

Eric Mitchell:  That makes sense.  A lot of people had wanted you to pick between some of these great horses, Zenyatta or Holy Bull.  Is there any way to pick a favorite, even though it kind of sounds like…

Mike Smith:  That’s not fair.  You know, Holy Bull is totally bull is Holy Bull.  He was just – what an amazing horse.  I mean, his time and his place, I don’t know if anything could have caught him but right now,  there’s just nothing and I’ve never – like I said before, felt nothing like Zenyatta.  She’s got a … she’s got a kick that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen or felt.

Eric Mitchell:  We talked a little bit about the energy that surrounds the Derby versus the Breeders’ Cup and there certainly was more drama surrounding this classic race.  But are the Breeders’ Cup races themselves compared with the Derby, are they comparable in your mind or can you talk a little bit about the difference between going into each of these races?

Mike Smith:  Well, I guess, the Breeders’ Cup, you got more than one chance.

Eric Mitchell:  Yeah, that’s true.

Mike Smith:  The Derby, you know, that’s only one time for that one three year old and that’s it.  In the Breeders’ Cup, you can come back and run maybe the next division next year, this or that.  But they’re all just so exciting, especially the classic.  You know, they’re apples and oranges; they both are great.

Eric Mitchell:  Hannah from Texas had several questions, well, three.  First, she wanted to know what got your interest in horse racing and riding to begin with?

Mike Smith:  Being raised on a ranch and both my grandparents owned horses and my uncle was a trainer.  My father rode.  I didn’t grow any (or at least that much), and I loved horses.  I’ve been riding since I could walk, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do was to be a jockey.

Eric Mitchell:  Tell us a little bit about your relationship with the Mosses and the Shirreffs, and kind of when you guys all got connected and began working together.

Mike Smith:  Well, first of all, it’s an unbelievable relationship.  All of them are just – not only are they just great people to ride for, they are great people; they are just wonderful, wonderful people, on and off camera and anywhere else.  I mean, they’re just great.

It all started a long time ago.  The first time I ever rode for John I flew here for a – I was receiving the George Woolf Award, and they were having a jockey challenge of the United States against Europe, and one of the horses I rode in that race was for John and I won it, coming down the hill at Santa Anita.  And then when I came out to California, he said, hey, I got a Holy Bull colt that I want you come and see and tell me what you think about him.

And so I went over there and that’s how I started riding for him.  It was Giacomo, and he kicked it all off.

Eric Mitchell:  Because he happened to be a Holy Bull colt, did that kind of pique your interest even more of wanting to get on him and see what he was like?

Mike Smith:  It was a funny story, it’s just a story, but it’s actually the truth.  After I worked him – after I breezed him, I said, man, John, I really like the way he felt.  You know, I mean he had great balance.  I said you get him to the Derby and I want to redeem his father’s name.

And I really told him that, and it happened.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, when you watch enough Derbies after a while, you kind of begin to think that history has a way of making right...

Mike Smith:  Yes.

Eric Mitchell:  ..of what’s happened in the past.

Mike Smith:  It goes to show you, just throw it out there and who knows what’s going to happen.  Put it out in the universe.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, exactly.  That’s a great story.

I actually have not so much a question but a comment here from a woman named Tara Scheland – and I hope I’m pronouncing her name correctly – but she said – I don’t have so much a question for you but her 9-year-old son had asked me to write to you that you had recently sent him a picture of you on Zenyatta.  His name is Brandon Griffin.

Mike Smith:  Yes.

Eric Mitchell:  And he just wanted to thank you for taking the time to do that.  She knows your busy.

Mike Smith:  I remember that.

Eric Mitchell:  That she just – that it meant a lot to her and just she wants to thank you from the bottom of her heart.  You made her day and made the day of her son who is getting interested in racing.  Right around the same time as she did and she just wanted to say, congratulations and thank you.  And so that goes out to you from Tara and Brandon.

Mike Smith:  Tell them, thank you.  I remember signing that and sending it off.

Eric Mitchell:  What kind of questions – I mean, here we have a 9-year-old boy, he’s interested in racing, who knows if he wants to be a jockey someday or a trainer, but if someone came to you and said they wanted to be a jockey, what kind of advice would you give them?

Mike Smith:  Well, Chris McCarron right there in Keeneland/Lexington that got the jockey school.  I mean, what a great way to get a chance to start, you’re getting taught by a legendary Hall of Famer like Chris McCarron. A great person.  I mean, I’d send you right there.  Otherwise, you’ve got to do it that hard way, on a farm here and try to get a job over there; there’s a lot to it.  You know, I was blessed that my uncle trained so I was there; I was hands on all the time.  If you could do something like that, it’s also great, but a jockey school, if you want to be a jockey that’s the place to go.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, like you said, there’s a great talent there in Chris McCarron and he can show you the ropes.

Mike Smith:  He’s one of the greatest.  Definitely.

Eric Mitchell:  I got a question from Meleah who wants to know if you think we’ll see a Triple Crown winner in the next five years.

Mike Smith:  Well, I sure hope so and I hope I’m on him. Because I’ve always dreamed since at a young, young age, I was going to win the Triple Crown.  I saw Secretariat do it when I was a little boy, and I said I’m going to do that, that same thing right there.  I believe it’s waiting for me.

Eric Mitchell:  I also had several questions about the show Jockeys that you had appeared on.  Tina Lippincott from West Virginia said you appeared very relaxed in front of the camera and she wants to know how natural is that dialogue?  And do you find the cameras and the crew intrusive after a while especially during private moments away from the track?

Mike Smith:  Yeah, well, quite a bit actually.  I’m glad I look natural.  I sure didn’t feel it.  It was kind of hard to be yourself, believe it or not – when someone is filming you – being yourself.

Eric Mitchell:  Right. Right.

Mike Smith:  It’s weird but they’re really smart about it.  They use the same camera guys and the same people.  You see them every day and you get to know them.  They actually become your friends.  I mean, those guys actually when I ran into them, a lot of them are still my friends.  And that’s how they get you to relax.  And then, yeah, it was a pain after a while.

They’re just with you all the time.

Eric Mitchell:  Now, how did that show come about?  How did they approach you?  What was kind of the pitch?

Mike Smith:  Well, there were two producers, two girls, that came up with the idea that actually had done a lot of research and got really close to almost hitting the same type of show kicked off several years ago.  And then when they heard there was another director that was thinking about doing something like this, well they joined in with him and they already had so much research done that he thought that was great.

Then they came to Hollywood Park and talked to all of us and asked if anyone was interested and didn’t mind getting in front of the camera and doing a little interview, and that’s how they picked who they picked.

Eric Mitchell:  A lot of people who are fans of that show, are they going to continue, are they doing more episodes?

Mike Smith:  No, they would really like to.  We had two seasons and that was it.  They’d like to do something else.  I know they’re looking into doing something else, but I’m not exactly sure what that is.

Eric Mitchell:  I had an interesting question here from Anne Keogh who shoots photos for us.  She says – Your aunts are so involved in the art world.  She was wondering if you’re also involved in collecting as well and what artists interest you?

Mike Smith:  Well, you think I would be but I do… I just started buying from her, actually, just about five months ago, I bought a John Moyer’s.  It’s a painting of an Indian.  It’s got beautiful colors in it and she really liked it and I bought it.  Anyway, you can look him up. If you go to  Nedra Matteucci’s same gallery – her galleries are all in Santa Fe.  You can just go and look up Nedra Matteucci and you can see all of her galleries.  She has beautiful, beautiful paintings, beautiful artwork in bronze and you name it, she has it all.

Eric Mitchell:  Is there anything like art that you do collect?

Mike Smith:  You know, I’m so into horses.

Eric Mitchell:  That’s your thing.

Mike Smith:  That takes up just about all of my time.  If I’m not on a horse’s back, I’m in the gym trying to get stronger so I can stay on a horse’s back.

Eric Mitchell:  I had a question here from Alicia.  She wanted to know why can’t your wine be shipped outside of the state of California?  Are you involved in the wine industry?

Mike Smith:  Yes, I am.  I’m not really sure why it can’t either.  For some reason – I was just talking to one of my partners yesterday, and they were really looking into that.  We think that anytime here in the next month or so, it should be able to be shipped out, because we have a new release coming out – an ’07 is coming out, probably in about four or five months.

Eric Mitchell:  Oh, okay.

Mike Smith:  It’s a Syrah.  Our ’06 is a Syrah.  It’s really getting pretty popular around here.  I mean, it drinks a lot like a Cab, it’s a great wine.  If you ever get an opportunity to get any, we have a website, it’s called jineteswine.com.  And jinetes is spelled as j-i-n-e-t-e-s.

Eric Mitchell:  All right.  Now, is that – are you partners in this…?

Mike Smith:  Yes.  Me, Alex Solis and an owner that we both ride for, his name is Tom Leonard.

Eric Mitchell:  And how long have you been doing that?

Mike Smith:  Just about three years, I think.  For our first release to come out, three or four years for our first release to come out.  And we’re just being close friends and we love Napa and we love wine and we go up there all the time together and that’s how we got it going.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, that sounds interesting.  What’s the label?  What’s it called?

Mike Smith:  Jinetes which means ‘riders’ in Spanish.  And that’s j-i-n-e-t-e-s.

Eric Mitchell:  Very good.  Well, good luck with that.

Mike Smith:  Thank you.

Eric Mitchell:  Hopefully, something will break free for you here.  

You had mentioned being in the gym, wanting to stay fit, ride as long as you can, have you ever thought about what you wanted to do after riding?

Mike Smith:  You know, I have, it’s a scary – actually a very scary thought for me because I’m so passionate about riding that I don’t know if I’ll be ever able to find anything else to be that passionate in.  I like doing things that I’m very passionate in because it makes it not work – you know, it makes it just having a lot of fun all the time.

Eric Mitchell:  I can understand that.

Mike Smith:  I’ve done a lot of commentating on off times and that’s somewhere to go.  I don’t think I’d train because then I’d have to get up even earlier than I do now. [chuckles] That would be kind of hard to do for the rest of your life, you know.

Eric Mitchell:  Right.  Well, you know, the door – I’m sure a lot of doors will open up for you.

Mike Smith:  Something will come up, hopefully.  And it’s going to be in the industry, whatever it is; it’s definitely going to be in the industry.

Eric Mitchell:  This is an interesting question and it’s from a guy named Barry, and maybe it will shed some light on the life of a jockey.  His question was related to the top 34 jockeys by earnings in the country.  He wants to know why the top jockeys are riding in low claiming races or races with lower purses and shouldn’t those top jockeys only focus on the bigger races with the bigger purses and let other jockeys have the opportunities to ride these less expensive races?   

Mike Smith:  It sounds like a plan to me.  I like his thinking. {laughing}

Eric Mitchell:  Oh, you do?

Mike Smith:  I don’t really have to ride… it depends … what Barry needs to understand is it depends on what part you are in your career, where you’re at.  Where I’m at in my career is exactly what he’s saying.  I look for quality, not quantity, not a bunch of horses.  I just like to ride three or four days, that’s it.  And I like to pick my spots.  If you’re able to do that, that’s great, but that’s very hard to do and stay at that top level.  I mean, you have to ride day in and day out. The same trainer that you ride a good horse for has a lot of other horses, too.

Eric Mitchell:  Right.

Mike Smith:  That’s how that comes about.  But when you’re young, you want to be the leading rider, you want to be the leading rider in the country, you’re looking to ride as many as you can, all the time.  And you know, those are goals that are set by a young rider.  So that’s what happens there. but when you get to your top older riders, most of them will pick and choose a whole lot more than they use to.

Eric Mitchell:  But as you say, you’re working for a trainer, he’s got a barn full of horses, not all those horses are going to be stakes horses; they’re all going to have their different level.

Mike Smith:  And same owners, you know, they have a great horse but they also have lower level horses and they want you to ride those two, and it’s hard to tell them no, you know?

Eric Mitchell:  Right.  Right.  Okay, well appreciate that.

Let’s see what else we have.  We got so  many, so many questions here about Zenyatta and Rachel and one person wanted to know – we have thrown out – it has been thrown out by several people and certainly out in the blogosphere about a shared Horse of the Year honor.  What do you think about that?  Co-horse of the year?

Mike Smith:  Absolutely not.

Eric Mitchell:  Absolutely not – that sounds pretty definitive.

Mike Smith:  Absolutely not.  No, I don’t believe in that at all.

Eric Mitchell:  And why do you say that?

Mike Smith:  Because it’s going to be one Horse of the Year, not two.  Not in the same year anyway.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, and I guess, I’ve also heard people say, well, you know, it’s kind of like the Heisman trophy; you can have a bunch of really talented players but you have to sort them out and you have to pick one.

Mike Smith:  That’s what makes it prestigious, you know.

Eric Mitchell:  All right.

Mike Smith:  Maybe you know, you can give them away to everyone who had a great year, and then there would be five.  Before you know it, there’s going to be three Horse of the Year.  It’s got to stay one.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, I can understand that.  You want to leave the prestige of the title.

A couple of people…

Mike Smith:  That’s my opinion, anyway…

Eric Mitchell:  Yes.

Mike Smith:  I’m sure other people have others but…

Eric Mitchell:  Sure.  And now, you’re from New Mexico, do you get back to New Mexico?  Do you still have family there?

Mike Smith: Yes, I do.  My mother lives in Roswell.  I have a lot of family around there.  And my aunts are all around in Sante Fe.  So I get back quite a bit actually.  A matter of fact, I’m going back on the 6th of 7th, there’s a party for me.  I’m heading back to New Mexico.

Eric Mitchell:  I have a question from a Dom Temmallo.  You have ridden the roller coaster of a lot of people in racing whose careers peak and ebb and wane, and you went through some tough times, they want to know, did you at any point when you were struggling just think about retiring at that point?  And what kept you going?

Mike Smith:  Certainly in ’98, I got hurt really, really bad.  And so, you know, in ’98 and ’99, it was tough.  It was the low point in my… certainly my career.   I never wanted to quit or give up, but there were times that I didn’t think that I have a choice.  It got down so bad one time, it’s just the love of riding and knowing that I can still do it at a top, top level.  I just knew I could.  If I really believed I couldn’t, I would have just walked away and I hadn’t won the Derby yet.  And you don’t know how bad – we all want to win the Derby, I understand that.

I made it into the Hall of Fame before I won a Derby and was blessed to do so, but given the opportunity that I’ve had in the Derby, I should have won one or two and I didn’t believe that I really belonged in there because I hadn’t done that yet, and that’s just my belief on my career because I was given some great opportunities.  So to finally win a Derby is just incredible.  I was second like three times before I finally won one.

Eric Mitchell:  I mean that was your own expectation of yourself and what you expected out of you.

Mike Smith:  Yes, of myself, exactly.  Out of myself.  Just given the opportunities that I had, and I had some great chances to win.  I mean, they ran well, I just didn’t win.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, the Derby is like that.

Mike Smith:  It’s an amazing… all it takes is one good horse to get rolling again and I came from New York to California, and I was doing pretty well in New York.  And when I first got here man, bam there was Azeri. There you were, right back in the limelight, you know.  It’s amazing what a good horse will do to you, or for you.

Eric Mitchell:  Absolutely.  

A question from Kaitlynn Wallace, wanted to know if you’d ridden any other disciplines; before becoming a jockey, did you ride western?  

Mike Smith:  Yeah, I rode western a lot.  Of course, being out from the Midwest in New Mexico you know, rodeoed a little bit myself too.  But I never did like dressage or jump and dressage it’s a lot harder than it looks, especially if you think you just go around there jogging.  It’s nothing like that.  It’s very difficult.  It takes years of practice and there’s an art to it and jumping, the same way; I never really jumped.  The only time I jumped is because my horse got away from me and we jumped a ditch or something. {laughs}

Eric Mitchell:  That’s the extent of your jumping career.

Mike Smith:  Yeah, I never did no competition in jumping, as far as that goes.  But I really admire all of it though.  Played a little polo too and I really loved that.  That was something, before I hurt my back, I used to do quite a bit of it up in Wellington.  During the winter time, I’d go up there and play with friends of mine that were 10-goal players up there, and they would teach me.  A guy named Nemo, and Carlos and Ruben Garcia, they were brothers and an uncle that lived up there.  And they still play polo actually.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, that’s an interesting sport, polo.  I mean, and talk about a lot of coordination and paying attention and…

Mike Smith:  I love it.

Eric Mitchell:  ..figuring out how to steer and hit and watch the other players.  Boy, there’s a lot going on a polo field.

Mike Smith:   A lot to it, a whole lot to it.  And I really took to that.

Eric Mitchell:  We’ve got a question from Wendy P., she just wants to know – What’s an average week for a rider who is riding at your level, what is it like?

Mike Smith:  Well, actually it was amazing. {laughing}  It was incredible.  Before that, I mean, my head was going to explode, just the pressure was just amazing.  I had never let pressure ever really hit me like that.  It really did.  I mean, two nights before, whew, it was really bad and then I just let it go.  Like I said before, I just prayed and let it go and it was just incredible.  

When you get the opportunity to ride at this level and ride the beautiful horses that we get to ride, it’s a great life.  Let me tell you something, I’d like to tell you how we go through these hard times and we do this and we do that, but it’s just an amazing way to live, as far as I’m concerned.

Eric Mitchell:  So that entire week before Breeders’ Cup, were you just trying not to think about it?

Mike Smith:  Yeah.  Everybody would say, “Are you getting excited, are you exciting, aren’t you excited?”   I’d be like, “No, I don’t want to be yet.  It’s too far out.”  You know, let it start now, I’d be dwindled up to nothing by the time it comes around, you know?

Leading up to every race with her just got more and more because you’re going unbeaten, I never…going for Personal Ensign record to win at 13…

Eric Mitchell:  Right.

Mike Smith:  … I mean that was a big thing for us, especially, you know all of use, especially Mr. Moss is a huge fan of Personal Ensign and so even just to do that was incredible for all of us and him, especially him.  And then after that, I knew that it was coming.  If she’s going to do a 14th, it’s probably going to be against the boys, and I just knew it.  And she was doing too well and training too good, not to.  It was time, you know.  Just step it up and to not just beat the boys, but beat the men.

Eric Mitchell:  Well, I think you have to admire the Mosses for taking that chance for…

Mike Smith:  It was a great thing for racing to run in the Classic.  They running her – I don’t think the Breeders’ Cup Classic would have been what it was without her in it, you know?

Eric Mitchell:  I would not disagree with that.

Mike Smith:  It really made the show.

Eric Mitchell:  Wendy P. had another question.  She just wanted to know – and as you said earlier, you mentioned the injuries that jockeys often get in your line of work.  She wanted to know, maybe you talk a little bit about just the risks that they take and what can you do to try and avoid those risks or mitigate those risks.

Mike Smith:  Well, you know, we had a tough year in racing as far as riders getting hurt this year.  You look at Rene Douglas, he was paralyzed up in Chicago and Michael Straight and you had another good buddy, Dale Beckner getting hurt really, really bad up at Presque Isle.  I mean it was just amazing how a good rider like Rene, who is the leading rider in Chicago and on top of the world and it just takes one race and it’s all over.  That’s the scary part.  And the other parts, you’re just really riding well and paying attention out there and staying physically, physically, physically fit.  And I try to do all of the above and then some.

Eric Mitchell:  Right.  Well, very good.  Well, we have run to the end of our questions.  Again, I really appreciate your time.  It’s been really terrific talking to you this morning.

Mike Smith:  Thanks for having me.

Eric Mitchell:  Again, a big congratulations on the victory in Zenyatta.  I’m sure it’s going to be very interesting seeing how Horse of the Year shakes out.  You make a strong case for her.  And good luck with the rest of your career.  I hope you continue to be healthy and that it’s a long one.

Mike Smith:  Amen.  Thank you.

Eric Mitchell:  Ok.  Thank you, Mike.  We appreciate it.

Mike Smith:  Thanks.

Eric Mitchell:  You take care.

Mike Smith:  Do the same.  Bye-bye.

Eric Mitchell:  Bye-bye.

Mike Smith Bio

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