Updated on 04/09/2012 1:26PM

Santa Anita: Mike Smith wins 5,000th career race in Potrero Grande Stakes

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Benoit & Associates
Mike Smith is all smiles after collecting his 5,000th career victory aboard Amazombie in the Potrero Grande Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif.-Amazombie was the perfect partner for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith’s 5,000th career win in Saturday’s Grade 2 Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita.

The reigning champion sprinter, Amazombie is reflective of the quality of horse that the 46-year-old Smith has made the focus of his recent career, 30 years after it started in his native New Mexico.

“My career is getting an opportunity to ride good horses in good races,” he said after Amazombie’s win. “It’s a whole lot of fun. I’m getting the opportunity to compete with good horses.”

There are some days at the current Santa Anita winter-spring meeting when Smith has few mounts, particularly when the quality of races is low. On Sunday’s eight-race program, the Easter holiday, he had no mounts on a card without a stakes.

[Mike Smith’s career highlights with replays]

Smith began Saturday with 4,998 wins, and won two stakes to become the 25th jockey in North America to reach 5,000 victories. His first win of the day came aboard Lady of Shamrock in the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf. Amazombie was his next mount.

The winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Amazombie stalked pacesetter Roman Threat to the eighth pole and took the lead under a hand ride to win by three-quarters of a length. Amazombie is co-owned and trained by Bill Spawr, who Smith credited for his support since he moved to California in 2000.

In the following years, Smith was the regular rider of Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year; won the 2005 Kentucky Derby on Giacomo; and was the regular rider of 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta from 2008 through the end of her career in 2010. Giacomo and Zenyatta were trained by John Shirreffs.

Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 and won the Eclipse Award for outstanding rider jockey in 1993 and 1994. Among Smith’s other accomplishments are victories in 15 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2009 Classic on Zenyatta, and wins in the Preakness (Prairie Bayou) and Belmont (Drosselmeyer) to complement his Kentucky Derby victory with Giacomo. Smith’s mounts earned a career high $15,974,592 in 1994, and his best year for races won came in 1993, when he won 342 races.

Going into Saturday, Smith thought he could have a milestone day. He had four mounts, including Midnight Transfer, who finished seventh in the Santa Anita Derby. Lady of Shamrock and Amazombie were his final two mounts.

Smith galloped Amazombie to the winner’s circle flashing a big grin.

When he climbed off the 6-year-old gelding, he kissed Amazombie on the shoulder and gave him a big hug.

  “I was so happy,” Smith said. “It was a big relief. [Spawr] and John Shirreffs have been behind me since I came to California.

  “In the back of my mind, I thought the last two shots would be my best two shots,” he said. “I hoped Midnight Transfer would run better, but we got hung out wide.”

Smith even found a moment on Saturday to be a bit of a show off. As Lady of Shamrock drew off to win the Providencia by 2 3/4 lengths under a hand ride, Smith rode particularly low in the saddle, much like a rider half his age.

“I got down,” he said. “I wanted to show the young guys in the room a little bit.”

Smith will ride at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas from Wednesday through Saturday this coming week.

He is booked to ride Bodemeister in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, a colt that could be his mount for the Kentucky Derby. That is the sort of race that is Smith’s current focus, and will be in coming years.

He said late Saturday that he hopes to ride for another five years, and admitted he could go longer.

“I’m just saying five and I might feel the same way after another five,” he said. “I’m happy with the way I’m riding and that’s the main thing.”