Sean Clancy: What have the past five weeks been like?
Mike Smith: “Really, not hectic, not as much as I thought it would be especially after winning the Preakness, some of it might be because it’s been done, it had been a long, long time before American Pharoah (in 2015), but it’s been busy. I haven’t let everything soak in yet, I still have a race to win, I’m just trying to concentrate on each race individually, just see what happens at the end of everything.”
SC: What do you have to do for Justify to run his best?
MS: “He’s a very straightforward horse, good Lord willing he’ll jump (from the gate) well, just let him do his thing, you don’t look to try to get the distance, slow the pace down and all that. He’s a naturally high-cruising speed horse and he fires, he gives you what he’s got. He’s really talented. If he’s in front, great, if he’s sitting off somebody, that’s fine too. He doesn’t have to be on the lead. As long as he’s in a nice comfortable rhythm, he’s going to run well.”
SC: Was there an anxious moment in the Kentucky Derby?
MS: “I knew we were going kind of quick, when Bolt d’Oro come at me going under the wire, kind of forced my hand, I said, ‘Man, this is awful early to be going this quick.’ But he was well within himself, he was happy, he wasn’t going to let anybody pass him that day.”
SC: How about the Preakness trip?
MS: “It was the first time he was bullied around a little but he handled it, he was all for it, he didn’t mind it one bit.”
SC: It looked like you were easy on him in the last stages of the Preakness?
MS: “Yeah, I was thinking ahead of time. I didn’t want him to do any more than he had to do especially on that track, I felt we had the race under control, although Bravazo did finish strong, he certainly surprised me a little bit. I wouldn’t have geared him down if I didn’t think we were OK. When I say geared down, I rode him hard to get out and away from Good Magic and then I was like, ‘Stay like this. Stay like this.’ I looked under my arm a couple of times to make sure.”
SC: He listens to you that well?
MS: “Oh yeah, you slam on the pedal, he’ll jump again.”
SC: What was his reaction to winning the Derby and Preakness?
MS: “He’s just laid back. I let him shut down and he just starts walking, next thing you know he’s walking like the pony. He hangs his head and you think, ‘Boy, he must be really tired.’ And then, whoop, there he goes, he gets a pep in his step and seems OK.”
SC: What’s the key to riding the Belmont?
MS: “I learned in New York on that big, big track, you’ve got to get a horse happy and comfortable, if not, it’s a long way to go. When you get one happy and comfortable, wherever that’s at, they’re going to run, it’s just a matter if you’re good enough to keep on running or run on by them.”
SC: How important is the 1 ½ miles, the farthest of the three Triple Crown races?
MS: “Some people think you have to be way back, you don’t necessarily have to be that far back, but then I’ve seen horses come and nail them. They have to be able to get the distance, you can have them in that comfortable rhythm but if they can’t get it, they just can’t get it. You’ll get them to go as far as they could, but that’s all. If you do too much early, there’s no way you’re going to get the distance. Just getting them in that good, comfortable rhythm, wherever that is.”
SC: Do you have any doubts in Justify handling the distance?
MS: “I don’t think he’ll have a problem with it. I’m looking forward to hopefully a dry track, he should like the big old turns, he’s a big, powerful horse, he should love that big, old racetrack.”
SC: What was the first Triple Crown you remember?
MS: “Secretariat. I remember right where I was sitting. My grandmother had just gotten a brand new coffee table that had a mirror in the middle of it, I thought that was the neatest thing. I was sitting right on that table watching it. She put the TV on because the race was coming on, me and my grandfather sat right there and watched it.”
SC: How different is it to get the chance of a Triple Crown at this stage of your career?
MS: “I’m so blessed for the opportunity. Sometimes you get things in life when you’re able to handle them, some things come to some people too early and maybe you don’t handle it so well. I thank God, it’s come to me this late, not early, because I’m not so sure I would have handled it the right way. Not to say I’m going to handle it, I’ve still got a race to win. But win, lose or draw, I’m prepared for whatever outcome.”
SC: Favorite New York restaurant?
MS: “Bryant & Cooper was probably where I went the most, out on Long Island. Then Italian, every Italian place was unbelievable. The Italian in New York, there’s nothing like it.”
SC: What’s the message of a 52-year-old jockey if he wins the Triple Crown?
MS: “Keep yourself in good shape, stay healthy, good and strong, you can keep on keeping on. Work at it. The body is a tool, if you don’t use it, it’ll grow old on you quick. The mental part is the best, because experience is a wonderful thing to have, man, when you have that experience…”