JOCKEY: Decision-making leaves Smith with no car, no flight, but smile

May 16, 1993|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

Mike Smith had just given away the first car he ever won and missed his flight home.

But he smiled broadly, asked for someone to send him down a beer and posed for pictures with his family.

Life couldn't be better for the man who rode his first Triple Crown winner yesterday in the Preakness.

He was going to spend the night in Baltimore and "sit down, gloat a little, smile and talk it over with Tom [Bohannan, Prairie Bayou trainer]."

At first, Smith tried to make his winning ride aboard the 2-1 favorite Prairie Bayou seem ever so simple.

"I just tried to sit up there and look pretty," said Smith, a resident of Hot Springs, Ark.

But when pressed later after most of the crowd had dispersed, Smith, 27, said he had to make a lot of quick decisions along the way.

"And, fortunately, they all came out right," said Smith, who added he didn't want to sound cocky earlier in front of the mass of people. "It's my job to make the right decisions."

The first major decision came when Union City broke down in front of Prairie Bayou midway through the backstretch.

"I tried to stay neutral, and then I went inside of him," said Smith. "Pat [Valenzuela, Union City rider] was great about it when he realized what was happening. He yelled, 'Breakdown, breakdown,' and that helped me and the other riders a lot."

The next key decision was to take the chestnut gelding wide approaching the stretch, even though Smith was criticized for taking Prairie Bayou wide when he finished second in the Derby two weeks ago.

"I was going to do whatever it took to win the race," said Smith. "And it worked out this time because my horse was running a lot differently here. In the Derby, I had to grind it out with Prairie Bayou. He was jumping up and down, and it was like being on a merry-go-round. Going wide didn't cost me the Derby. Today, he went wherever I asked him to go."

After getting into the stretch, Smith and Prairie Bayou had bolted from eighth to second place and were ready to duel Cherokee Run.

"We played a lot of cat-and-mouse in the stretch," said Smith. "He would pull away from the other horse [Cherokee Run] and then let him come to him. I just decided not to push him anymore. He just wanted to win by a half-length."

That final decision also was right by Smith. And then he made one more winning move.

Though it was tempting for him to keep the 1993 red Chrysler that was awarded, he decided to donate half the car's worth to the Disabled Jockeys Fund and the other half to the Donald MacBeth Fund for injured jockeys.

F: "I have a lot of time to get another car," said Smith.

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