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Jockey Mike Smith, left, stands with Ruidoso Downs Racetrack Chapel chaplain Daryl Winters. (Courtesy Photo)

Mike Smith, New Mexico native and Triple Crown winner on Justify, came back to his roots for a day at Ruidoso Downs.

Smith started his Sunday off July 8 by addressing the crowd at the Ruidoso Racetrack Chapel. We are all aware of the sports heroes who are not an inspiration to our young people; Mike Smith is just the opposite. He was introduced to the crowd by Daryl Winters, racetrack chaplain.

The quote that thrilled all New Mexicans – “He left the gate like he was at Ruidoso going 440 yards” – was an unplanned spontaneous outburst. The morning of the race, Smith had been talking to the trainer, Bob Baffert, who also has New Mexico racing experience, about strategy and told him, “I’m going to come out in front.” And boy, did he. Smith said he just knew the horse was always going to do great things. “At the 3/8’s pole, just before I turned him loose, I said to Justify, ‘Let’s go do this for the Lord,’” Smith said. “The horse took off.”

He stated he has been blessed to work with Windstream Farms. “We all know how blessed we are.” When asked about future plans, he said that Justify’s breeding rights sold for a lot of money, and he didn’t know if the horse would go directly to the breeding shed or race for the remainder of the year.

Asked about his religious background, Smith said he was raised by his grandfolks and he got his early religious training from them. He stated he always wanted to be an altar boy, but that never happened. His grandmother would pray every night, and that would be his chance to light the candles. “We had about a hundred of them.” Then his grandma would teach him about life. Afterwards, he would put out the candles. “Only thing is, I didn’t have that little bell. I would have liked to have that little bell.”

“I am hearing that Grace led you through your life, but you must have had valleys in your life,” Winters said.

Yes, he had injuries – at one point he broke his back. That was a tough time in his life, and he thought he’d have to retire. There was so much he wanted to do. He hadn’t won the Kentucky Derby yet. By the Grace of God, he got back on his feet and kept pushing himself.

Throughout his testimony, Smith was brought to tears. “Even when you lose, be grateful for the opportunity you had.” He stated praying is not first thing in the morning, last thing at night. Praying is all day long. Keeping God in your heart. “I’m always talking to God. I am asking Him right now to help me stop crying. I am so happy right now to be in this wonderful state.”

“We are going to have a devotional with our jockeys today and have them experience Mike being with them today,” said Winters. “We all need to be thankful.”

Mike said people ask him if he is going to retire. He feels he has such a platform now through what he is doing. “I don’t think my work is done, it’s just begun. I’m going to keep going.”

About his statement to Justify – “Let’s do this for the Lord” – Winters Daryl asked, “Have you done this with other horses?” Mike replied, “No, I never have. We all knew how special this horse was.” Winters said, “We know you have a busy schedule; we are glad you fit us in.”

Mike replied that this was the highlight of the whole trip. To which Winters asked Mike to lead the assembly in prayer.

We were all very impressed with Mike Smith; hope to see him more often. His life is so inspirational, he really should write a book about his life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact Kathy Kolt at [email protected])