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Albuquerque Journal 

Native Justify jockey worked for his success


New Mexico native Mike Smith rode Justify into the history books on June 9, capturing the coveted Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes.

Justify became just the 13th horse since 1919 to earn the Triple Crown — victories in one year by a 3-year-old thoroughbred in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Smith, a 52-year-old jockey who was born in Roswell and grew up in Dexter, became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

It’s one of the sports world’s toughest feats, and it has catapulted Smith — and New Mexico, by association — into the national spotlight, including a nice segment on NBC.

Ever the gentleman, Smith celebrated the win with grace and humility, and dedicated the victory to all disabled riders.

“First and foremost, I thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for blessing me on this wonderful day…,” he said in a televised interview following his win. “This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. I tell you, it’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotion that’s going through my body right now.”

Smith, who has family in New Mexico, has worked for his success, maintaining a rigorous workout schedule. Along the way he’s won more than 5,400 races and his mounts have made more than $306 million, earning him the name “Big Money Mike.”

A horse-training uncle on his mother’s side broke him into racing, teaching him to ride at an early age. Smith won his first race as a licensed jockey at the Downs at Santa Fe at 16. Since then, he has a record 26 wins in the Breeders’ Cup and has been inducted into the thoroughbred Hall of Fame.

Smith now lives in California, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he got his start here and is one of us — a fact he often mentions during national interviews. And so we celebrate his amazing success and wish him much more of it.

— Albuquerque Journal


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