Photo ©Tom Hyland
Last year, the comeback of jockey Gary Stevens at age 50, was one of the major stories in thoroughbred racing. After not having ridden competitively for eight years, Stevens came back with a vengeance, winning the Preakness Stakes as well as both the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the Breeders Cup Classic; overall, he was 12th on the money earnings list for the year and was one of three finalists for an Eclipse Award for the best jockey of the year.
But there's another jockey who had a hell of a year in 2013 and really all throughout the past decade and even longer. That would be Mike Smith, who captured the Belmont Stakes and then won three Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita. No other jockey won as many races at last year's BC - his total number of career Breeders' Cup wins is now a staggering 20! It will be a long time before anyone breaks that record.
Just to prove that wasn't a fluke, Smith is still going strong now that 2014 racing has been underway for a month. At the age of 48, he continues to excel in his craft and he's riding with as much enthusiasm and talent as ever. Through his first 70 mounts at the current Santa Anita meet that began on December 26, Smith has won 23 races for an amazing 33% win rate; his in-the-money percentage through those first 70 races was 56%. As a comparison, the meet's leading rider Rafael Bejerano had only eight more wins from another 67 mounts, a win percentage of 23% (still quite impressive) with his in-the money percentage at 65%.
Over the weekend of January 25 and 26, Smith captured the Grade ll $200,00 Santa Monica Stakes on Scherzinger in an effort that track handicapper John White labeled a "hall-of-fame" ride. You get the feeling that there are a lot more "hall-of-fame" rides left for Mike Smith and as he's doing this at his age, you just hope that he can continue his winning ways for another four or five years, if not longer! It couldn't happen to a nicer or more professional guy- way to go Mike!
Smith aboard Midnight Hawk in the Santa Anita winner's circle after capturing the Sham Stakes on January 11. (Photo ©Tom Hyland)