Cup of Coffee: Like Mike

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“Classic Mike Smith at Saratoga.” That text came at 3:47, right after Smith guided Posse Attack to upset the sixth. Three races later, Smith did it again, sweeping off the turn to win the ninth. That was “Classic Mike Smith at Saratoga,” too.

After the race, Smith, in town to ride Palace Malice in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, strolled back to the jocks’ room, talking, signing, posing.

A father stopped Smith and asked if he would stand with his daughter for a photo.

“You got a picture with her when she was 1,” he said. “Now, she’s 17.”

Smith laughed. Sixteen years. A big span, but not the whole span of Smith’s journey from Roswell, New Mexico, to New York to California and back to New York, at least, in Saratoga, for a few days.

Friday afternoon at Saratoga, Smith recounted his life, his career, at Saratoga. From his first day in the late 1980s, to winning the Travers with Holy Bull, to breaking his back in 1999, to being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, to returning in 2013.

“You’re coming to a historical place, as soon as you get off the Thruway, it’s magic. For a rider, it’s like being in wonderland, it’s incredible the feeling you get. The opportunity to ride with some of the greatest in the world, if not the greatest in the world, the riders that we had here at the time. I couldn’t name one, because they were all so great. I made some wonderful friends. I was just so happy to be here, I didn’t care if I won a race or not. It was just a good place to be.

“I never had doubts until after I made it. All of a sudden you start doing well, that’s when it gets scary, because then you want it to continue, it’s like a horse winning off by 10 first time out. You want to see if it’s for real or not.”

“Most of the pressure came after I had made it, and after I had gotten hurt. I had never, ever, in my life, ever, struggled at anything. I didn’t know what struggle was. If I never did that good, I wouldn’t have cared that I hurt my back. But once you taste it, you know what it tastes like and you want to get it back,” Smith said. “That’s the only time in my life that I struggled, mentally and physically. It messed me up for a bit, good thing I had a lot of good friends and faith in the Lord, brought it all back. I remember when I left for California, Shug McGaughey said, ‘It just takes one good horse, son. One good horse and you’ll be back on top.’ Not only was I blessed with one, I was blessed with another 10, it’s been incredible.”

“Holy Bull winning the Travers. What a race and I’m not just saying that because I won it, that’s probably the most memorable. Coronado’s Quest, winning the Travers. And Lure, winning the Bernard Baruch, from last. It was a five-horse field, all fast horses, Fourstardave, Paradise Creek, everybody said he’s going to get cooked on the lead. He come from last and won, that was incredible and he’s getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Pretty neat. Fourstardave, Fourstar’s Allstar, the Alabama, Sky Beauty, Inside Information, Jostle. I leave out so many, I’ve been very blessed here, throughout my career, it’s a special place.

“It was a little surprising for me at the time, I thought I was still a bit young, I hadn’t done half the things that I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure I was deserving of it. I think there’s a guy or two who still aren’t in who deserve to be in there before I did. I’m very thankful and blessed that I did. Now I can honestly appreciate it more because I think I’ve accomplished enough to belong. I was blessed with a great career when I went in, but there’s a few of my fellow riders, a few who are still riding, Alex Solis being one of them, who should have gone in before me.”

“It’s cool to come back and do well. It’s great. To see my old friends still winning, see these great young riders winning. You just have to stay healthy and happy, that’s the main thing, the rest will all come, you don’t forget how to do it. You might get too old to do it but you don’t forget how.”

Indeed, Classic Mike Smith at Saratoga.