Jockey Bill Shoemaker was 54 years old when he won the 1986 Kentucky Derby aboard Ferdinand.
This year, there’s a jockey riding in the Derby who is older.
That’s Mike Smith. He’s been riding professionally for 40 years. This will be his 27th Derby. To do that, he said he needs to take great care of his body.
He met with WAVE 3 News Anchor Shannon Cogan at the Galt House gym to talk about his extensive routine.
If Smith crosses the finish line first in the Derby — as he did in 2005 on 50-1 longshot Giacomo, and in 2018 aboard Justify — he’ll be the oldest jockey to win the race at 55.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’d take that one. I keep waiting for that time when I start feeling that I’m getting in the way instead of helping. And I haven’t felt that yet.”
That’s because Smith pushes his body, especially in the month before a big race.
He said he runs 30 minutes on a treadmill, doing about an 8.5-minute mile. He follows that with 30 minutes on a bike or elliptical machine. Then, he spends an hour with a personal trainer, who pushes him sometimes to the point of exhaustion.
Smith does many leg exercises, sometimes holding weights in a squat position, as if he’s riding a thoroughbred.
“Five minutes later, you might come around and I’ll still be here squatting,” he said. “You know, just for your legs.”
A week before the race, Smith stops exercising and rests.
“By Derby Day, I want to run through a wall,” he said. “I’m healed. I’m so ready.”
Smith said he hopes that will be the case Saturday. He’ll be on the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon, the horse that got loose on the Churchill Downs backside last week.
“If they gave you the trophy for looks, he stands out,” Smith said. “He’s the prettiest horse, biggest horse. Prettiest horse of the group. If he was a man, he’d be about 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, and ripped.”
Smith is 5-foot-4. He said he keeps his weight between 117 and 118. On race days, its water, no food.
“The reason being because, God forbid, you get hurt,” Smith said. “You can’t have any food in your stomach. Could be in surgery that afternoon. You never know.”
He knows about that. His body reminds him of serious accidents. He broke his back and collarbone in 1998. He has scars on his arm from 1982, when a horse stepped on his arm and shattered it.
Smith aditted he also spends time and money elsewhere.
“I’m a cosmetic guy,” he said. “I try everything there is to try. Oh yeah, man, I’ve got more cosmetics than you do in your bathroom. Trust me.”
Maybe the world will notice, if he ends up in the winner’s circle.
Interesting note: Smith has yet to ride on Midnight Bourbon. The first time will be on Derby Day. But he said that sometimes, the first time is the best time.