Mike Smith

Top Kentucky Derby Jockeys – Mike Smith

Jockey Mike Smith is was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2003 and has ridden a handful of thoroughbred Hall of Famers as well, including Holy Bull, Skip Away and Zenyatta. Yet Smith has just one victory at the Kentucky Derby and it came aboard the unheralded Giacomo. Smith could saddle a second winner of the Run for the Roses this May as he rides sprinter Midnight Hawk, and the colt was among the early Kentucky Derby betting favorites.

Smith was born in Roswell, New Mexico, on August 10, 1965, as the son of a jockey and began riding horses at age 11 in that state. He took out his jockey license at age 16 and won his first race with Forever Man at Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico. In 1991, Smith made history by becoming the first United States-based jockey to win a European classic by capturing the Grade 1 Irish Two Thousand Guineas aboard Fourstars Allstar. The next year, Smith won his first Breeders’ Cup race by riding Lure to victory in the Mile.

In 1993 Smith set a North American record for stakes wins in a year with 62. His horse Prairie Bayou was the Kentucky Derby odds-on favorite but finished second to Sea Hero. Prairie Bayou came back to win the Preakness States. Smith also led Lure to a repeat win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and won the Eclipse Award as the top jockey.

The next year Smith won the Eclipse again and broke his own single-season stakes record with 68 wins, including 20 grade 1 victories (since broken). Smith won both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Turf. Five of those grade 1 wins were aboard Holy Bull, the 1994 Horse of the Year. Holy Bull was the 2-1 Kentucky Derby favorite but finished 12th after being bumped coming out of the gate.

Smith’s breakthrough at the Kentucky Derby came from Giacomo, who was 50-1 on Kentucky Derby odds for the 2005 race. He came down the center of the track and broke away from the pack to win the 131st Derby and paid $102.60 on a $2 wager. For those who bet on the Kentucky Derby, that was the second-most in history, behind Donerail paying $184.90 in 1913. Giacomo entered the Derby with one victory in seven career races and that came in a maiden race in October 2004.

The best Derby finish for Smith since then was a place aboard Bodemeister in 2012. Smith has also won the Belmont Stakes twice: 2010 (Drosselmeyer) and 2013 (Palace Malice).

Smith also was the jockey for legendary mare Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, for 17 of her 20 career races and her 16-race winning streak. The only loss for Smith and Zenyatta was a second-place finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Zenyatta’s final race. She retired as the richest female racehorse of all time with earnings of $7,304,580.

In 2014, Smith’s Derby shot is sprinter Midnight Hawk, the son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Midnight Hawk opened 2014 with a victory in the one-mile Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita but then faded in February’s Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles to finish third. Midnight Hawk likely will have to show he can handle the longer distance in his next race to be one of the true Kentucky Derby contenders.