The Hartack Memorial Award Recipients
Mike Smith, 2019 Recipient
Michael Earl Smith has been a leading rider in Thoroughbred racing since the early 1990s. Smith was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003, and has won the most Breeders' Cup races of any jockey with 26 Breeders' Cup wins. He is also the second leading jockey in all time earnings with over $312 million. In 2018, Smith rode Justify to victory in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont, becoming the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown title, at age 52.
Born in New Mexico, Mike spent most of his youth on his maternal grandparents' horse farm where he began breaking horses at eight years old. He began riding races at age 11, and in 1982 at age 16 he took out a jockey's license. Accompanied by his paternal grandfather, he began riding a Midwestern circuit which included races at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago, Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha and Oaklawn Park Race Track in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Smith served his apprenticeship at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota before moving to New York in 1989.
In 1991, Smith became one of the few American jockeys to win a European classic the Irish 2,000 Guineas aboard Fourstars Allstar. That year he got his big break by becoming leading jockey in New York. The following year, he rode his first Breeders' Cup winner, Lure. In 1993, he set a North American record for stakes wins with 62. That year, he won his first Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey, and also won an ESPY Award as top jockey. In 1994, he broke his own record for stakes wins with 68. Several wins came while riding that year's Horse of the Year winner, Holy Bull. He also rode two winners in that year's Breeders' Cup, and again won the Eclipse Award as leading jockey.
In 2000, he moved his home base from New York to Southern California. That year he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award that honors a rider whose career and personal conduct exemplify the very best example of participants in the sport of thoroughbred racing. In 2002, he served as the regular rider for his second Horse of the Year, Azeri. He rode Azeri and Vindication to wins in the Breeders' Cup.
In 2005, he rode 50–1 longshot Giacomo to victory in his first Kentucky Derby win. In 2008, he added two more Breeders' Cup victories with Stardom Bound, and with the then 4-year-old Zenyatta. A year later, Smith returned to the Breeders' Cup with Zenyatta, this time to capture the Breeders' Cup Classic. Smith partnered Zenyatta to 16 straight victories of a 19-for-20 career that saw her become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races, and the richest female racehorse with the earnings of $7,304,580. Later in his career, Smith chose to ride fewer but more lucrative races, and his success in doing so, particularly his ability to stay calm in the most high-pressure races, earned him the nickname "Big Money Mike".
In 2018, Smith became the rider of Justify, who, after winning two races with the horse in California, won the 2018 Kentucky Derby. In doing so, the horse broke the 136-year-old "curse of Apollo" by winning the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 years of age. The last time this feat was accomplished was by Apollo in the 1882 race.
Two weeks later, Justify and Smith won the 2018 Preakness Stakes and then, on June 9, at the 150th Belmont Stakes, Justify, ridden by Smith, became the 13th Triple Crown winner.