It wasn’t long ago when all of Dexter was watching their favorite son, Mike Smith, sitting atop Justify. Many were on pins and needles as he raced for the homestretch in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown. Then they heard race announcer Larry Collmus say: He’s just perfect and now he’s just immortal, after Mike had crossed the finish line with a time of 2:22.18.
Today, Mike Smith is immortal in Dexter.
On Monday, Mike made the trek back home to Dexter, to say thank you to family and friends for their love and support. A special group of men and women worked tirelessly to make sure that when people drive through Dexter, everyone will know Mike Smith is from the town of Dexter, and Dexter is proud of him.
The Mike Smith sign will stand forever. On Monday, Mike stopped in and posed for pictures with family and friends just after noon. A group of people got to thinking they should do something to honor Mike after he became the 13th rider to win the Triple Crown.
“I’ve done some great things in my life,” Mike Smith said, “I’ve won some great awards. This ranks right up there with the Triple Crown. I got my start from some of those people. My family has worked for some of those folks, and for them to honor me means everything to me. I’m speechless, man.”
Ben Coates, of Coates Pump & Supply Inc., thought the town should do something to honor Mike. He talked to Dexter Mayor Mitch Daubert, Kevin Moore, owner of Metalcraft, and body painter Mark Reid. All of the supplies and labor were donated out of love for Mike.
“Benny Coates and I,” Daubert said, “we kicked the idea around and Kevin Moore came up and helped us design it. We decided to get Mark Reid involved in painting it. He did a great job. It was a community type project and it turned out really fine.”
Mike is in town for Mike Smith Appreciation Day. On Monday, Mike signed autographs and posed for a picture with well-wishers who came out to share his special day. He spent the rest of the day visiting his family and sharing dinner. On Tuesday night, there will be a dinner in his honor at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds in the Arts and Craft Building, by invitation only.
“Mike has done us (Dexter) a great job and honor,” Daubert said. “It’s a helluva step from where he was. Having some ups and downs and he’s come along and done us a great job and made us proud.”
In August, Reid was driving through Cheyenne, Wyoming, going to visit Mike’s cousin, Yvette Crile. He talked it over with her and then was called by Coates, who wanted to make a sign for Mike. Moore did all the blacksmith work and cut the sign out where they hung it in the old fire department. Reid would paint on it when he could, two to three hours a week, until it was done.
“It’s the greatest thing I have ever painted,” Reid said. “I have painted all over the world, and I have some great achievements, but this takes the cake.”
Third-generation business owner and son of Benny Coates, Chance Coates, said they were always proud of Mike. He noted the sign would be bright, especially for Dexter.
“Mike (Smith) has always been adamant,” Chase Coates said, “that he’s from Dexter, not Roswell, and proud of this town. We wanted him (Mike) to know how proud we were of him. We’ve been working on it almost two years ago. We decided to do something in town.”
The last time Mike was in the state of New Mexico was on July 8, 2018, when then-Gov. Susana Martinez proclaimed Sunday, July 8 as “Mike E. Smith Day.” Mike returned to give back to New Mexico as he signed autographs and raised money for the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund at Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino.
“This means more to me than Mike Smith Day,” Mike said. “Being recognized in my hometown, and with my family, just means everything to me. I can’t express my gratitude enough for what the people of Dexter have done for me.”
If there is enough of a demand, a time will be arranged for fans to meet Mike at his sign in Dexter Wednesday morning. Stay tuned to the RDR Sports Facebook page for updates.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.