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For Justify Jockey Mike Smith, Sharing Triple Crown With Mom 'Meant Everything'

June 12, 2018
Justify jockey Mike Smith indicated on Glenn Clark Radio June 11 that he won't rule out the Triple Crown-winning horse running in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course (N.Y.) Aug. 25, ahead of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs (Ky.) in early November.

"If he's jumping out of his skin and we need to run him a little earlier, that's definitely something he could do," Smith said. "But if he's acting like he needs a little more time, then [trainer Bob Baffert will] wait on him. But I'm telling you, as of right now, I went to see him at the race the day after and he had a mouthful of grain. I can guarantee he didn't lose a pound. These horses are supposed to be losing anywhere up from 50 to 75 pounds at this point, going through the Triple Crown. It's pretty grueling, and he seems to have gained weight."

Justify captured the Triple Crown with a wire-to-wire victory at the Belmont Stakes June 9. Justify won the 1.5-mile race by 1.75 lengths, with Gronkowski and Hofburg finishing in second and third. Justify became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown, with American Pharoah last accomplishing the feat in 2015. Baffert said after the Belmont that he wants Justify, who's won all six of the races he's entered, to race through this year

The win at the Belmont wrapped up Smith's first Triple Crown and seventh victory at a Triple Crown race overall. The Triple Crown almost didn't have a chance to materialize, however; Justify was nearly run down by Bravazo during the Preakness Stakes. At the Belmont, however, no horse gave Justify a run for its money with a late charge.

Smith discussed how he handled Justify at the Preakness and Belmont.

"The Preakness strategy was a little different for me. I wanted to see if I could win the race and not have to empty him out, like I kind of did in the Derby where we went so quick all the way around there," Smith said. "I knew that being so lightly raced, he certainly couldn't do that again, and then going into the Belmont fresh. So I was wanting to win it without emptying that tank, and I underestimated the competition a little bit. 

"… The Belmont, I knew was going to have to be aggressive out of the one hole early, hoping I could put enough distance between me and the rest of them to where I could slow it down in the middle of the race and I was able to do all of that, just kind of dictate the pace as the race unfolded."

A native of Roswell, New Mexico, Smith began his career as a jockey at the age of 16 in 1982, according to America's Best Racing. Since then, he's run in more than 33,000 races and won nearly 5,500, as his horses have purse earned more than $300 million. The biggest highlight of his career, though, came June 9, made even more special by the fact that his mother, Vidoll Daniel, was with him in the winner's circle at Belmont Park.

"It meant everything to me," Smith said. "It was probably nerve wracking for her because she can't stand to watch. She gets too scared. She watches my races from the laundry room, and then she pops out afterward after she knows everyone crossed the wire safe and then she watches the replay afterwards. She hardly ever watches it live. So for her to be there, it meant the world to me and afterwards, I know it meant the world to her, and my brother was there, Raymond. A lot of my family came in from New Mexico and it was just wonderful. I can't tell you how great it's been and it's going to be."

Though Justify's racing career doesn't appear to be finished, the horse and his team can bask in the Triple Crown for now. Before Justify returned to Churchill Downs, where he trained for the Triple Crown races, he was met with plenty of cameras at Belmont Park in the day following his win June 9.

"He acts like he likes the attention," Smith said. "I know he loves the cameras the next day out at the barn. They brought him out and boy those lights were flashing and he just stands there very proud, like he knows they're taking a picture of him or something."

For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club