Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
On Saturday, the 146th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Down will be run. Toward the end of the race, there will be a number of horses and riders fighting to make it to the finish line first.
As the horses come to the top of the stretch, expect the announcer on TV will say “And down the stretch they come, heading for home.” Among the riders fighting to win his third Derby championship will be Dexter’s own Mike Smith.
While the race is going on, there will be a small woman with the TV fixed to the station. She will not watch the race in real time, but she will either be in her garage or bathroom while the race is being run.
She will not care if Mike Smith wins, she wants him to win. But she will care more that he crosses the finish line in one piece and is healthy. She will know if he won or lost because the TV cameras will be on the winner.
The small woman in Dexter who can’t stand to see her baby hurt is: Vidol Daniel. Daniel is Mike Smith’s mother. People see the wins and accolades of what Smith has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career, but not many people know the prayers and sacrifice it took to get him to the top.
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“It is nerve wracking,” Daniel said. “It’s like any mother watching her son in a sport.”
Not a lot of people know what Smith and his No. 1 fan overcame to get him to where he is at today. It included Daniel loving her son enough to let him pursue his destiny without any guarantees of success.
When Daniel let Smith go, he was 13 years old. She could have been selfish and told him to wait until he was 18 years old, but Daniel didn’t do that. She trusted what her eyes and heart were showing her. She believed in her oldest son and let him go.
Imagine living in Dexter in the late 1970s, Daniel was a divorced mother of two boys, Mike and Raymond, to support. Mike was three years older than Ray. Back then, a divorce would have broken most families. Not Daniel’s, she did not have time to feel sorry for herself and wouldn’t let it stop her, nor would she teach her kids to let bad things stop them from achieving their goals in life.
Daniel was determined to make something of herself and her kids. She instilled a work ethic in her children to be successful, as she went to school and earned her teaching degree. It was never easy, but with the help of her parents, Daniel and her sons would make it.
“I celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day with the boys,” Daniel said. “I was both for them.”
Mike tried to play sports with football being his favorite, but he wasn’t big enough. He tried baseball and boxing. Once when his mother came to watch him box, she passed out and that was the end of boxing.
“I wanted to be a linebacker in football,” Smith said, “but I didn’t grow.”
From the time he was a kid, all Smith wanted to do was be outside and ride horses, according to Daniel. It didn’t matter if it was a real horse, a rocking horse or a stick horse, Smith would ride it. He would ride around the house acting like he was on a horse all the time. Smith would use his brother and cousins as a horse, as well.
Smith had Daniel fooled, she would drop him off at school on her way to classes in Roswell and Portales. Smith would walk through the front door to the back door where his uncle Thomas would be waiting for him.
Both would go to Ruidoso and gallop horses and then come back in the evening. It wasn’t until the principal told Daniel that her son was missing school. Daniel could not believe it, because she dropped him off in the mornings on her way to classes. Finally, Smith told her what she was doing.
“My mother and I have always been close,” Smith said. “There is not a day that goes by we do not talk or text each other. We are just a close family.”
One day while cleaning Smith’s room, Daniel found a large sock full of money. Daniel asked her son if he was doing anything illegal to get the money, or doing drugs. Smith told her he was earning the money by galloping horses. That was before Daniel knew anything about horse racing.
“As a child, he always loved horses,” Daniel said. He had rocking horses, stick horses, moving horse. He lived and dreamed horses. He said, ‘One day I’m going to be in the Kentucky Derby.’”
Smith left home when he was 13 years old and by the time he was 18 years old, he owned his own home in Arkansas. The Dexter superintendent told Smith he wouldn’t amount to anything if he didn’t go to school. Smith told him, “You watch me.”
His uncle Thomas let Smith go to Louisiana without Daniel’s permission to get started. His mother signed for him to get his racing licenses in Santa Fe, and he raced at the Albuquerque fairgrounds. His grandfather owned a bar in El Paso, Texas, and sold his bar and moved to Arkansas to be with Smith.
“I knew Mike would do something outdoors,” Daniel said. “He was always around horses and if he wasn’t outside riding them, he would ride a stick horse in the house. Mike (Smith) just loved horses. I knew Ray would work in an office or be a businessman. Ray always liked suits and to be able to pull envelopes out of his pockets. A mother knows her children when they are young.”
On Saturday, Smith will reunite with trainer John Shirreffs and ride Honor A.P. He will start at the 16-post position with post time being 7:01 p.m. ET. Shirreffs and Smith won the Derby in 2005, with Smith aboard Giacomo who was a 50-1 shot.
Smith raced Honor A.P. on Aug. 1 at Shared Belief losing to fellow Derby contender Thousand Words; Smith said he thought the distance, 3/16th of a mile shorter than the Derby, was too short for him. Smith likes the horse’s intelligence. The favorite for the race is Tiz the Law. He has had only one loss in his career, and that came at Churchill Downs last November.
“He lives for what he does,” Daniel said. “His job is not his job; he loves what he does for a living. He has fun for a living. I knew how much he loves it. It wasn’t until he won the Derby in 2005 that I realized that he was born to race horses.”
When the race is over, Daniel will be watching to see if Smith is healthy, and if he won. No matter where he finishes, the family has already won, together.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.