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Mike Smith goes for third derby win

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Mike Smith during a workout. (Submitted Photo)

In a normal year, the Triple Crown would have been run on May 2 of this year. But it has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unless people are diehard horse racing fans, many might not know Tiz the Law took the first leg of the Triple Crown in 2020, winning the Belmont Stakes on June 20. The Preakness was moved from May 16 to Oct. 3.

For Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the pandemic has enhanced his training. Mike feels he’s had some of the best workouts he has had in years. Mike feels he’s been able to pay more attention to details in his training. Normally, Mike travels in and out of the country to race, but with restrictions, he has had to slow down.

“Actually, the quarantines have made my workouts better,” Mike said. “Now I get a chance to work out. I’m actually training harder now than I ever did before. I ride my bike and run further than I have in the past, now that we are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything.”

“Big Money Mike,” as he is affectionately known in the racing circles, knows this could all end with one nasty spill. He is no longer thinking about or talking about retirement. Mike wants to race as long as he is healthy and can be competitive. It was 22 years ago in 1998 when Smith was injured and broke two vertebrae in a race at Saratoga racetrack.

That injury cost him six months of his career recuperating. After that injury, Smith promised himself he would be the fittest jockey that he could be. Smith is fanatical about his conditioning and knows that his skills are not dependent on age, but in being able to make split-second decisions on a horse and staying in shape.

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His good friend Willie Shoemaker raced until he was 59 years old and showed no signs of slowing down. Shoemaker was in a car accident and paralyzed causing him to end his racing career. Smith has no plans to slow down or retire.

This derby will be the first with no spectators, and the first time the derby has not been run on the first Saturday in May, since 1945. For Smith and many other jockeys, it is still the Kentucky Derby. It is also the second leg of this year’s Triple Crown.

Mike will tie Willie Shoemaker for most derby rides with 26. He has a chance to add to his story career as he rides Honor A.P.

Mike will start from the 16th pole-position, and will only have to look to the next pole position to see derby favorite Tiz the Law starting at the No.17 post-position. Mike thinks it is going to be very hard to beat Tiz the Law, but feels like if any horse can, his horse can. Mike will have to beat Thousand Words, the horse that beat him in the Shared Belief on Aug. 1 at Del Mar.

“To be involved with Bill Shoemaker’s name,” Mike said, “in any way or circumstance is a huge honor. We are excited for this race. We were closing in and the race was shorter than we’re used to. He (Honor A.P.) still ran extremely well. We’ve stepped up the training leading up to this race. We are excited that we can turn the tables on this race.”

Mike is excited for this race, he feels he has a better chance this year, because Honor A.P. is a more highly regarded horse than his 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo with trainer John Shirreffs.

For Mike, his year has been like the rest of us, he’s been trying to figure it out as he goes along. Mike attributes his success to hard work and the power of prayer.

“I’m a very religious man,” Mike said. “I pray all of the time, that’s all I do.”

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