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Dexter drops highway on Mike Smith

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Chaves County Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. gives Mike Smith a sign after they named a highway after him Tuesday night. (David Rocha Photo)

No one knows how to throw a party for Mike Smith like the state of New Mexico. Tuesday night on Mike Smith Appreciation Day, Dexter showed the world how much Mike Smith means to them. Dexter followed up a sign in Dexter that will stand forever, with a drop-the-mic moment when they announced to 300 of Mike’s closest family and friends what is usually reserved for people that are deceased.

During an announcement, T. Calder Ezzell Jr., District 2 county commissioner, told of how his wife, State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, had an idea to name a highway after Mike Smith. On Jan. 23, she wrote a letter to the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Highway Commission. The letter said: “Dear Sirs, With the full concurrence of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, the municipalities of Dexter, Hagerman, Lake Arthur and the citizens of Chaves County, I respectfully request that the entirety of State Road 2, from west of Midway to its intersection of 285 north of Artesia be designated the ‘Mike Smith Highway.’”

When Ezzell Jr. read that announcement, the whole building erupted. Mike Smith sat there stunned and speechless. The day before, he had just had a sign donated to him. On Tuesday, it was a highway. The rest of the letter stated about how Mike accomplished horse racing goals that no other jockey in history has accomplished.

Candy Ezzell mentioned how Smith had just ridden Justify to become the 13th man to win a Triple Crown in 2018. The letter also stated that he has been inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. She stated how proud Smith is of the Pecos Valley and that Smith often comes back to visit. Candy Ezzell said Mike Smith is one of New Mexico’s most loyal and famous citizens.

Mike received other gifts Tuesday night. He received a New Mexico flag, which was flown over the New Mexico state capital in Santa Fe on Feb.14, at the request of Candy Ezzell, recognizing Mike Smith’s accomplishments as one of the greatest jockeys in all of history.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a letter to him, as well as the New Mexico Horse Racing Commission, congratulating him on the highway and wishing him continued success.

“Thank you so much,” Smith said. “I’m speechless. Talking about riders, there are a lot of people who were better riders than I was. Especially my uncle. I thank Ben Coates and Rich Daubert, Dexter mayor; Kevin and Joy Moore welders that put the sign together. My family came in. I’ve been blessed to do a lot of wonderful things in the horse racing world. The most important was getting inducted into the 2003 Horse Racing Hall of Fame. I have to honestly tell you this, by far, blows that away. It really does.”

Smith started to break down and cry when he talked about being proud to be from Dexter. He talked about how Dexter is a town of hardworking people. Smith stopped crying long enough to joke that he was going to drive down his highway Wednesday. Smith also joked about a famous body art painter, Mark Reid.

“It’s amazing,” Smith said. “I’m overwhelmed. It means so much to me because of family and friends. It’s not about the money or trophies. It’s about this family and friends. I wanted my wife to see where I come from and this has been wonderful. I don’t want to leave.”

Next up for Smith will be racing on March 29 for $20 million.

What others are saying about Mike Smith

Former Sen. Timothy Jennings: “Mike Smith is probably the greatest athlete to ever come out of New Mexico. You have to stop and look at his accomplishments, we’ve had football players and stuff. But he has won the biggest horse races all around the world. It’s amazing that a young man from Dexter, New Mexico, knew what he wanted to do early in life and fought and fought for it and ended up being the greatest athlete from New Mexico.”

T. Calder Ezzell Jr.: “The naming of the highway goes to my wife, Candy Ezzell. One of the problems is they had never done that for anyone that was still alive. He noted that his wife had great cooperation from Mike Sandoval, Department of Transportation. Bruce Ellis is the new highway commissioner from District 2. It became official on Thursday morning during a special meeting with the Highway Commission. Joe West had a sign for Ezzell Jr. that afternoon.”

In two years, Mike Smith has had a governor proclaim Mike Smith Day. This time, home, the city of Dexter has made a sign for him that will stand forever, and now he has a highway named after him. There’s no telling what will happen on his next visit to the state of New Mexico.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.