Saturday, July 07, 2018

Jockey Mike Smith's ride on Triple Crown winner Justify began in small New Mexico town

Horse Jockey Mike Smith battled through the rain and mud to lead Justify to wins at the Kentucky Derby and a fog-shrouded Preakness Stakes before arriving at the race that earned him a place in history. Smith, who was born in Roswell but forged his love of horse racing while growing up in the small farming community of Dexter, became the 12th jockey in history and the only one from New Mexico to win the Triple Crown in June after flying across the finish line atop three-year-old Justify to the deafening cheers from 90,000 spectators at Belmont Park in New York. That day, Smith and Justify led wire-to-wire to become part of an elite group of 13 horses and a dozen jockeys who accomplished horse racing’s most difficult feat, winning the sport’s three largest races. Smith grew up in Dexter, a small farming community about 17 miles outside of Roswell with no stoplights. The town has a handful of restaurants and no website. Not all of the town’s residents have met Smith, but the pride in his accomplishments is evident. Smith’s victory quickly made it onto Dexter’s Wikipedia page, which lists him as its only notable resident. A previously sparse notation, which read "Mike E. Smith, jockey," is now "Mike E. Smith, jockey, who won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing aboard Justify in 2018." It was in New Mexico, with his uncle, trainer Thomas Vallejos, where Smith began his lifelong love affair with horses and racing. "I trained the first horse he ever won on," said Vallejos, a Dexter resident who turns 80 later this month. "We are very proud of Mike. He was a natural at being a jockey. He is very smart, very strong. He picked up things really quickly as a young kid. He learned from mistakes and got better." Smith began competing in match races in Southeastern New Mexico when he was 11 years old. At 16, he won his first race as a licensed jockey at the Downs at Santa Fe...MORE

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