Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith became the 25th North American to reach 5,000 careers when he guided sprint champion Amazombie to a victory in Saturday's Grade 2 Potrero Grande Stakes, defeating the front-running Roman Threat by a well-measured three-quarters of a length under a polished hand ride. Camp Victory finished third, and the time of the 6 1/2-furlong race was 1:14.16 on a fast track.
Amazombie is trained and owned by Bill Spawr, one of Smith's biggest supporters since he moved to California over a decade ago. Tom Stanford co-owns Amazombie.
“I'm really just beside myself right now,” said Smith, a 46-year-old native of Roswell, N.M., who began his riding career in the Southwest and Midwest, moved to New York and made a major impact over a number of years, then moved to California in 2001. “For it to happen on Amazombie is so fitting. Who could have drawn it up any better?” Later, in a press conference Smith also mentioned John Shirreffs, trainer of Horse of the Year Zenyatta as someone who has stayed with him when others perhaps went to younger riders.
Smith, who is single, has had his ups and downs and suffered from some serious injuries from riding accidents, but said he is happy and feeling great physically. “I can win races and be unhappy,” he said. “But I'm happy now and feeling good.”
Joining the 5,000 win club, Smith said, was “very humbling” and said he hopes to ride another five years.
Smith is represented by agent Brad Pegram.
Amazombie, a 6-year-old California-bred gelding by Northern Afleet, was coming off a third-place finish behind The Factor in the G2 San Carlos Feb. 25, his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November. He settled into third place early as recent maiden winner Roman Threat carved out fractions of 22:02 and :43.95 for the opening half-mile. Roman Threat still led into the stretch, but Smith put Amazombie in gear and he ran down the frontrunner in the final sixteenth of a mile to win going away.
“He's back,” said Spawr. He (Mike Smith) only let him run a quarter mile is all he did.”
“Amazombie's stronger this year,” added Spawr. “He's gained weight, but it was to much for the San Carlos going seven-eighths and I think now he's at racing weight, what it should be. Bu he's stronger, he's got more muscle, better color, and probably weighs 60, 70 pounds more and it's all musce. I feel this year – our goal this year is the Breeders' Cup Sprint if we're fortunate enough to get there, and this is our first step.
More about Mike Smith's 5,000th win and career milestones from Santa Anita publicity department.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith became the 25th jockey in racing history to win 5,000 career races Saturday as he piloted the Bill Spawr-trained Amazombie to victory in the Grade II, $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita.
A 46-year-old native of Roswell, New Mexico, Smith, who won the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer and the 2011 Sprint with California-bred Amazombie at Churchill Downs this past November, shares the all-time record of 15 lifetime Breeders' Cup wins with retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, also a native of New Mexico.
“This is really humbling,” said Smith. “It feels great to win this race for Bill Spawr and for it to happen on Amazombie is so fitting. Who could have drawn it up any better? I'm just really happy that I finally got to 5,000. I was a little bit concerned at the quarter pole today, but by the time I reached the eighth pole, I was very comfortable. This horse is a champ.
“I feel really good and I'll sleep well tonight. Just to be put in that group of guys that have won 5,000, I'm just beside myself. I've got Easter off tomorrow and I'm gonna go on an Easter egg hunt. I've always had a lot of fun throughout my career and I wouldn't change anything, even the injuries.
“I can remember riding in El Paso with the wind blowing a hundred miles an hour and I thought 'this is the greatest place on earth.' I want to focus on getting good horses to ride and work hard at it. I feel great and I'm still getting good opportunities.”
Amazombie, who came off a disappointing third-place finish in his 2012 debut, the Grade II San Carlos Stakes on Feb. 25, stalked pacesetter Roman threat and drew off to an authoritative ¾ length win, getting the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.16.
Voted America's Eclipse Award winning jockey in 1993 and '94, Smith is regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of all time and he was the regular rider of the legendary mare Zenyatta, guiding her to the final 17 consecutive wins in her storied career, including a win in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Smith's Breeders' Cup wins are highlighted by three victories in the Breeders' Cup Classic: aboard Skip Away in 1997, Zenyatta in 2009 and Drosselmeyer in 2011.
An upset winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, Smith has won a total of three Triple Crown races. In addition to the 2005 Derby, he took the 1993 Preakness Stakes with Prairie Bayou and the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer.
In addition to his multitude of prestigious stakes wins, Smith has also had the distinction of being the regular rider of three Horse of the Year winners: Holy Bull in 1993, Azeri in 2002 and Zenyatta in 2010.
In 1993 Smith set a North American record for stakes-won by a jockey, amassing an amazing 62 added money triumphs.
The son of a jockey, Smith took out his first jockey's license in 1982 and soon began to establish himself as a rider to watch in the mid 1980s at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota. His career took off when he moved his base of operations to New York in 1989. Smith quickly established himself as a dominant force, winning 14 riding titles at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga between 1991 and 1993.
Smith was also Gulfstream Park's leading rider in 1994 and he led the 1994 Keeneland spring meeting as well.
Smith's career was nearly ended in 1998, when he sustained a series of injuries, the worst of which was due to a spill at Saratoga in August, which resulted in two broken vertebrae. Forced to wear a body cast, Smith was sidelined six months.
Smith is scheduled to ride next week at Oaklawn Park and will return to ride full time at Santa Anita on April 15.
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