ARCADIA, Calif. — The ride is far from over for Mike Smith, even at age 51.
The jockey known as “Big Money Mike” is poised for another lucrative weekend in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita with live mounts in the $2 million Distaff with the unbeaten Songbird on Friday and in the $6 million Classic on Saturday aboard Travers winner Arrogate.
“These kind of horses are certainly keeping me around,” Smith said. “I’ve been here longer than I ever thought I would be. It’s been incredible. I don’t look back on it too much. I’m looking forward to this weekend. I’m very blessed to have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, but I still want to add to it.”
The Hall of Famer has already won over 5,300 races, and his mounts have earned $279 million in a career that started in New Mexico in 1982. He has won most major North American stakes races, including the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo.
But the Breeders’ Cup is where Smith shines. He holds the records for wins (22) and purse earnings ($28.9 million) in the season-ending championships.
A major concession to the passage of time is a selective approach. Smith doesn’t ride as many races as in the past, seeking quality over quantity. He has had only 275 mounts this year heading into Breeders’ Cup weekend, yet he leads all American-based riders in average earnings per race at $26,969.
If the money is down, Smith is there.
When Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent Arrogate to the Saratoga for the $1.25 million Travers, he needed a jockey for the gray colt’s first stakes race. Riding the horse for the first time, Smith guided Arrogate to a 13 1/2-length victory in track record time.
“When I reached back and touched him one time, I couldn’t believe how he took off,” Smith said. “I was in awe of what he did.”
Arrogate is the 5-2 second choice in the Classic behind even-money favorite California Chrome.
Songbird, the 6-5 favorite in the Distaff, puts an 11-for-11 record on the line, with Smith in the saddle for every victory.
“She’s probably got to run harder than she’s ever run before, but I think she’s ready to do something like that,” Smith said.
Several years ago, Baffert’s wife, Jill, helped Smith organize his trophy room. With everything polished and presented, son Bode Baffert was awed by the sight.
“Bode looked at all the trophies and said `Daddy, why does Mike Smith have more trophies than you do?”‘ Bob Baffert said. “I told him I’m trying to catch up. I’m a little bit behind.”
So are most jockeys, when it comes to chasing “Big Money Mike.”