Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith is one of the most recognizable faces in the Thoroughbred racing industry. The two-time winner of the annual Eclipse award for Outstanding Jockey, Smith won the coveted Triple Crown in 2018 with Justify and has ridden many other champion horses, often at the call of fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
One of Smith’s many claims to fame is his impressive record in the Breeders’ Cup, the World Championships of Thoroughbred racing that attract top horses from across the United States and around the world to compete for multi-million dollar purses.
Smith has won more races and more purse money in Breeders’ Cup than any other jockey. Through 2017, he has started in 135 Breeders’ Cup races, won 26 Breeders’ Cup stakes races, and earned well over $35 million in earnings during the annual Championship.
How much can you win on a horse Smith rides? What records has he broken?
Let’s take a look at five of the Mike Smith’s standout performances in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships:
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One of Mike Smith’s most memorable Breeders’ Cup appearances was not even a win at all, but a loss. In 2016, Smith had ridden the talented champion Songbird to 11 consecutive victories. The 3-year-old filly appeared untouchable and planned to culminate her campaign with a win against the best fillies and mares in the country in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Smith would ride her again in this race, possibly the biggest victory of her career. The duo had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes the previous year.
But it was not to be. Songbird, the Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 2015, met her match in Beholder, the Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 2012, Champion 3-Year-Old Filly of 2013, and Champion Older Mare in 2015.
Despite her achievements and experience, Beholder was not favored over Songbird, though the duo appeared to outclass the remainder of the field. The 7-year-old, with Gary Stevens aboard, and Songbird, with Mike Smith, hooked up at the top of the stretch (check) and dueled stride-for-stride down the entire stretch in front to the Santa Anita crowd in a spine-tingling edition of the Distaff.
The two were neck-and-neck and arrived at the wire nose-and-nose, with an imperceivably close margin separating the two. Beholder was ruled the winner in a photo finish, challenged by many fans of Songbird. In fairness, the televised race and hired photographers presented photographs Songbird edged out Beholder, while the official photo finish technology correctly separated Beholder’s nose at the actual finish wire.
Even with the narrow loss, the incomparable filly was honored as Champion 3-Year-Old Filly at the end of the year. Beholder was recognized as the Champion Older Mare for a second consecutive year.
In 1995, Mike Smith picked up his fifth career Breeders’ Cup win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. His mount in the race, Inside Information, was a heavy favorite following two years of multiple graded stakes wins.
Smith and Inside Information took over the lead early in the race and held on to win by daylight. The final margin of victory was 13.5 lengths, an astonishing distance in a championship event featuring the best of the best Thoroughbreds from around the world.
The margin of victory set by Smith and Inside Information in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Distaff is still the longest on record for any Breeders’ Cup, even 23 years later. Inside Information was honored as the Champion Older Mare at the end of 1995 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
Mike Smith had the opportunity to sit aboard one of racing’s most revered champions of the 21st century: Zenyatta. Smith rode Zenyatta in 17 of her 20 career starts. Zenyatta was a powerful mare whose late closing style offered dramatic, thrilling finishes. Crowds gathered to watch her signature dance moves in the paddock and to watch her defeat rivals in graded stakes throughout Southern California.
In 2008, Mike Smith and Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. At the time, it was Smith’s fourth win in the Distaff, a record he would break in future years.
In 2009, Zenyatta made a bold move. Despite a win streak at the time of 13 races, the mare was occasionally discounted on the national scene because all her races were in Southern California against fillies and mares. Trainer John Sherriffs entered the mare into the Breeders’ Cup again in 2009, but this time, she would take on the world’s top older male horses on the dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic is the centerpiece of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Winning the race is the ultimate test for an older dirt horse in the United States and often leads to coveted Champion Horse of the Year honors.
Smith and Zenyatta wrote racing history that day with two firsts: she was the first filly or mare to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She also became the first horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races in her career, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
One of Mike Smith’s top Breeders’ Cup moments is a painful one for many racing fans, but there is no question that it became one of the most infamous occasions in all of Breeders’ Cup history.
Smith had piloted Zenyatta to two Breeders’ Cup victories, in two different divisions. She had won 19 consecutive races and retirement was on the horizon. For the connections with a mare in top form who had already demonstrated that she could defeat the best older horses, why not attempt the Breeders’ Cup Classic for a second time? Zenyatta could retire undefeated in three starts, with a record three wins in Breeders’ Cup races.
But it was not to be. Zenyatta’s patented closing move was not the only one in the field, and as Smith swung her around the field and they pointed toward the wire, another horse loomed alongside. The aptly names Blame, with Garrett Gomez aboard, nosed out Zenyatta at the wire.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Smith, Zenyatta’s connections, and many fans. But it was an admirable attempt by the duo and gallant effort by the nation’s top filly of 2010 and best rider of the Breeders’ Cup.
Mike Smith won his first of his career 26 Breeders’ Cup wins in 1992, with Lure. The Thoroughbred had won four races prior to the event, but his best win to date was a Grade 2 race, having never attempted a Grade 1.
Smith and Lure came out of the gate sharply and gained an early lead, which they never relinquished. Lure was a wire-to-wire winner that day, defeating a full field of 13 other horses, including the post-time favorite and champion Arazi.
Not only was that Smith’s first Breeders’ Cup win, he returned with Lure the following year to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile for a second consecutive year, joining a short list of horses with multiple Breeders’ Cup wins.
Despite entering the 2017 Breeders’ Cup weekend as the jockey with the most career Breeders’ Cup wins and earnings, not everything Mike Smith rode was supported by bettors and handicappers.
Smith’s mount in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes was Caledonia Road, a 2-year-old filly making her third lifetime start. She broke her maiden in her debut at Saratoga and followed it with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont. Smith had already won 25 Breeders’ Cup races and was in search of his third win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The pair stayed in the back of the pack in the race and made a wide, sweeping move to come from far out of it to win by over three lengths. Ignored by bettors, Caledonia Road went off at odds of over 17-1 and paid $36.60 to win for a $2 win bet.
It was the biggest longshot on any of Smith’s career Breeders’ Cup winners and the only win of all of his mounts in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Prior to Caledonia Road, Smith had almost nearly as high of a payoff in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Smith rode Tikkanen to a $35.20 win in a full field of 14 horses; Tikkanen had been racing in the UK and in Europe prior to his Breeders’ Cup appearance and had several graded stakes wins to his credit before he won the BC Turf.
The 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships are November 2 and 3 at Churchill Downs. Watch and wager on all the Breeders’ Cup action, including all Mike Smith’s races, at home or on your mobile device by signing up for an account at TVG, TwinSpires or Xpressbet.