HE is nicknamed ‘Big Money’ for his genius in the saddle but stands just 5ft 4ins.
Meet Mike Smith, the legendary 56-year-old rider who was engaged to one of the world’s most beautiful people and has career earnings of more than £270million.
‘Big Money’ is one of America’s top jockeys and would make history if winning the Kentucky Derby at the age of 56
For years in American racing, if you wanted someone to win the big one, you went to ‘Big Money’.
A nickname given to him by trainer Bob Baffert, Smith is old enough to be a grandfather but regularly still beats rivals more than half his age.
He will try to do it all over again in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Smith gets the ride on 12-1 shot Taiba.
Victory will give him his third Kentucky Derby and make him the oldest ever to win, beating the record held by Bill Shoemaker, who won in 1986 aged 54.
Smith, who won the race on Giacomo in 2005 and Justify in 2018, says it is the horses that keep him young.
So much so that he feels 30 again – despite, like every jockey, having a record of injuries.
He said: “I feel great. Except for 1998 when I broke my back I’ve been really, really healthy.”
Oh, so just a broken back, nothing major…
BROKEN BACK BUT STILL FEELS HALF HIS AGE
Smith added: “I feel like I’m 30 years old. And when you get the opportunity to ride the horses I’ve been blessed to have ridden, it’ll keep you young.”
But for all his exploits in the saddle, what the public may remember best is his role in the controversial ‘Race of the Exes’ in 2011.
Smith was engaged to fellow jockey Chantal Sutherland, who was named in People magazine’s ‘100 most beautiful people’.
Highly successful in her own right and with more than £40m in earnings, racecourse bosses thought it would be a good idea to pair them off against each other in a 1vs1 race.
It was a winner from their point of view.
Chantal’s looks and success on the track had previously landed her a four-page spread in Vogue magazine and feature in Sports Illustrated – she transcended the sport.
DERBY GLORY AGAIN?
She once posed for a photo with a QR code on her bum and even called herself ‘barcode butt’.
Their engagement broke off in June 2010 and they raced head-to-head a year later, Mike coming out on top in the bizarre TV spectacle.
For his part in the race, Mike said: “If she had beaten me I wouldn’t have heard the end of it!”
Fortunately the two remained on good terms and Mike has since tied the knot with Cynthia Naanouh at a ceremony in California in 2019.
Clearly happy off the track, a historic win in America’s biggest race would most certainly make him just as happy on it.
Mike was given his ‘Big Money’ nickname by famed trainer Baffert