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Mom sees Hall of Fame son make history

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Jockey Mike Smith, second from right, trainer Bob Baffert, right, and owners Kenny Trout, second from left, and Teo Ah Khing pose with the Triple Crown trophy after race horse Justify won the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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Normally, when Vidoll Daniel watches her Hall of Fame jockey son Mike Smith ride, it is after the race has been run.

Daniel usually rigs the TV to record the race and then she will come back into the house from the garage to see who the announcers are interviewing — and then she will watch the race.

Saturday’s race was too important for her to stay away, nerves and all. Smith was trying to do something that only 12 jockeys before him have ever done: win the Triple Crown.

Daniel, who recently retired from her job, caught a red-eye Thursday night and flew up to New York to watch her son race in person in the 150th Belmont Stakes.

Jockey Mike Smith reacts after guiding Justify to win the Triple Crown at the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

“I was so exhausted when we got in,” Daniel said. “I was still kind of tired the next day (Friday).”

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During the race, NBC wired Daniel for her reactions to the race, so she was forced to watch the race whether she wanted to or not. Daniel said she couldn’t see everything across the track but was praying for Mike to win.

On Saturday, the morning of the race, she felt like her son was in such a good mood at 8 a.m., as he went around to each family member’s room to say goodbye and talk with them before heading out to the track. In all, Daniel estimates there were 35-40 family members there to provide support for him.

“He was so positive,” Daniel said. “He was feeling good about the race and winning. Before he left I made a cross on his forehead and I said, ‘focus.’”

Smith led from start to finish and was never challenged as he cruised aboard Justify to become the 13th rider to win the Triple Crown with a time of 2 minutes, 28.18 seconds.

Gronkowski came in second in the 10-horse field.

Justify is undefeated in every start he’s raced as a three-year-old. Smith becomes the oldest rider to win the Triple Crown.

“I think I was in shock,” Daniel said. “I don’t think I know where I was at the time. It went by so quickly, it was amazing. When they came through on the right side it seemed like it took forever for them to get to the finish line. But he finally got there.”

Now that Smith has won everything there is to win in horse racing, Daniel hopes he will retire, but knows that with this win he will probably want to ride another three years, which is what he always tells her.

Daniel was in such shock going to the winner’s circle that she fell. She almost didn’t make it into the winner’s circle because security was so tight.

She talked to the security guards and tried to tell them she was Mike Smith’s mother, but they wouldn’t believe her. If it wasn’t for jockey Drayden Van Dyke, who told her to come with him, she would have missed her son’s biggest moment.

What Daniel is most proud of is that no one taught her son how to ride. She believes that riding is what he was born to do and that his talent was God-given, and through belief in God and hard work he has become a Hall of Fame jockey.

Daniel and Smith had a hard time getting to the party given in his honor at the Garden City Hotel because Smith has a hard time saying no to autograph seekers and people that want to take pictures with him.

“Even if you’re a small fish in a big pond,” Daniel said, “actually, Dexter isn’t a big pond.”

Smith retiring seems unlikely now that he has won the Triple Crown, because he will be in demand and get better horses to race.

“Kids can’t give up,” Daniel said, “people can do whatever they set their minds to do. You have to focus on your goal.”