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Smith rides into history with Triple Crown Win

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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)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

NEW YORK (AP) — There’s a reason Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is in demand when owners and trainers pick riders for the elite in thoroughbred racing.

The 52-year-old Smith, a Chaves County native, just knows what to do aboard a horse.

When to move it. When to take back. When to let the colt or filly have its way on the track. When to go to the whip. Smith has seen it all, and he knows how to handle the pressure.

Take Saturday, for example. Smith, who is from Dexter, faced the pressure of helping Justify take that final step to become the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner.

The world was watching on television and the internet and 90,327 fans had packed Belmont Park to cheer for the chestnut colt who had captured the attention of the horse racing world by winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness after not racing as a 2-year-old. No one had done that before.

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The pressure was intense and “Big Money Mike” reacted like a veteran. He took a nap during the long 13-race card.

It worked to perfection as Smith put an exclamation point on his illustrious career, guiding Justify to victory in the 1½-mile race that was over with an eighth of a mile to go. Justify won by 1¾ lengths on Saturday.

“I felt great, and that probably wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” Smith said. “I’d have been probably running through a wall or something.”

In sweeping the big three races for 3-year-olds, Smith becomes the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. It’s the pinnacle of a career that has seen him win more than 5,400 races, including a record 26 in the Breeders’ Cup, and now seven Triple Crown races. His mounts have earned more than $310 million.

This was another perfect ride. Breaking from the less-than-desired No. 1 post, Smith gunned Justify to the lead and never looked back.

“He probably broke better today than he has out of the other two (Derby and Preakness), to be honest with you,” Smith said. “He left there today very good which was very important. He was able to go ahead and get a comfortable lead and let him get in that rhythm of his.”

Once that happened, the other nine colts in the field didn’t have a chance.

When fans roared at him in appreciation on the way back to the winner’s circle, Smith calmly pointed to Justify.

Smith is clearly at the top of his game in a sport where jockeys are riding less and less in their 50s. He won 15 Grade 1 races last year, including nine with Bob Baffert, the trainer of Justify and now a two-time Triple Crown winner.

Justify’s victory gives racing its second Triple Crown winner of the decade. The last time there were two Triple Crown champions in the same decade was the 1970s, which produced Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

Purchased for $500,000, Justify earned $800,000 for his Belmont win, giving him $3,798,000 in his brief career.

Justify accomplished a lot in a very short time.

At 6-0, he joins Seattle Slew in 1977 as the only two undefeated Triple Crown winners; he’s the first to sweep the series without racing at age 2 (because of a pulled muscle); and he’s the only horse to beat nine rivals in the Belmont with a Triple try on the line. Slew also was a wire-to-wire Belmont winner.

 

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