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Triple Crown winner Mike Smith rides on his Catholic faith

Jockey Mike Smith
Nicole Bello | Getty Images North America | AFP
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"Life wouldn't be worth living without my faith."

The Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, who famously rode Justify to a Triple Crown victory last year says that he prays before each and every race in which he competes. While many athletes beseech the Lord for victory, however, Smith’s prayers have a different focus.

“It can be a dangerous sport. I don’t pray to win, I just pray for safety,” Smith said in an interview, just two days after riding Omaha Beach to victory in the April 13 Arkansas Derby.

Smith had his prayers all ready for the 145th Run for the Roses on May 4, at which he would have competed for his third Kentucky Derby win. Unfortunately, Omaha Beach, the horse he was supposed to ride, came down with a respiratory illness and was forced to drop out. Prior to this, Smith and Omaha were favored to win with 4-1 odds.

Catholic News Service reports that Smith starts every day with prayer and he will often stop what he’s doing throughout the day to pray for a worthy cause when it crosses his mind.

He told The Record, the archdiocese newspaper of Lousiville:

“My faith is my life, not a part of my life. Everything else is a part of it, except that… It’s funny, it’s always been that way. I remember praying when I was in school, sometimes praying that I wouldn’t get in trouble,” he said with a laugh.

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Smith headlined at the Race for Grace charity dinner April 29 at Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby’s racetrack. The event, hosted by the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy, raised money for the people who work the backside, or behind the scenes, of a race track.

Smith was born to horse racing. He grew up on a New Mexico ranch where he knew from a young age that his life was to be centered on horses. He said his parents and grandparents formed his faith, citing his grandmother, Rosita Vallejos, in particular as the reason for his deep connection to Catholicism.

“She, without a doubt, was the strongest influence on my faith. She prayed with me before bed when I was little. She taught me prayers in English and Spanish.” He added, “My faith means everything to me. I would not have anything if I didn’t have it. Life wouldn’t be worth living without my faith.”

Those who follow the sport should be well familiar with Smith’s racing prowess, which began in the 1980s and saw him inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2018, at 52, he became the oldest jockey to ever win a Triple Crown, on the back of Justify.

At home, in Southern California, Smith attends St. Rita Church in Sierra Madre. He has been a parishioner there for over 15 years.

The jockey said he firmly believes “we are put here to do the great things the Lord wants us to do – to help others if we can, be there for people, love people, to be humble, gracious, kind, considerate, caring.”

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