ELMONT, N.Y. -- Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith has had a year to remember, and it's only June.
He has won the world's two richest races with Arrogate. He won the Kentucky Oaks with Abel Tasman. And his mounts in North America have already won more than $11 million in 2017.
Smith hits Belmont Park on Saturday with mounts in eight of the 10 stakes on the card. He rides the champion Songbird, who launches her season in the Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps; Abel Tasman in the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn; Mor Spirit in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap; and Meantime, who might prove to be the speed of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
"Mike's a big-money rider on big days," said Brian Lynch, who secured Smith for Meantime. "If anyone can pull it off on big days, it's Mike."
Smith, 50, is based in Southern California. This is yet another road trip in a year in which he's won graded stakes in Arkansas, Dubai, Florida, Kentucky, and Texas. He's had an unusually hectic travel schedule over the first half of the year, though it's not unprecedented for the rider.
"There was one year a couple years back that we literally were gone every weekend, almost the whole year," Smith said. "That was back when Royal Delta was running, and I was riding a lot of pretty nice horses back on the East Coast and at the same time a lot of nice horses on the West Coast, and even they were shipping. It was like I was gone every week. But I'm having such a fun time doing it, I really am. I'm so blessed to come in and ride the caliber of horses I'm riding."
Songbird's return in the Phipps will be one of the highlights of the card. The start will be her first since she finished second by a nose to Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Smith has ridden her throughout her 11-for-12 career, which includes seven Grade 1 wins from Del Mar to Saratoga.
Songbird's trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said: "Mike rides a lot of good horses, and he rides in a lot of big races, and you want a rider that's used to that type of environment. That's why we put him on Songbird.
"He loves her. He always comes back to see her, and he just enjoys being around her, not just in a race but on the backside."
The Phipps will be the first Belmont start for Songbird, and Smith is optimistic that she will handle the surface as well as she did Saratoga, where she won the Alabama and Coaching Club American Oaks, and Parx, where she won the Cotillion.
"She didn't mind Saratoga," he said. "She didn't mind Philadelphia. She didn't mind anywhere else we've taken her. She's just so talented and so well balanced, she just gets over anything. I think we could run her on the grass and she'd run tremendous on the grass as well. She's just that kind of horse. She's an all-around athlete."
Mor Spirit will be looking for his third straight stakes win in the Met Mile, following the Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park and the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn. He earned Beyer Speed Figures of 107 for the Steve Sexton Mile and 105 for the Essex.
"He's really starting to thrive," Smith said. "His Oaklawn race was really, really good. He ran fast, big number, and at Lone Star, he drew off; he was reaching at the end. He was finding more ground and liking it. I was like, 'Wow!' So, that was impressive."
Mor Spirit will be racing at one turn in the Met Mile after running around two at Oaklawn and Lone Star.
"It shouldn't bother him," Smith said. "Big turns [at Belmont], you've got a lot of time."
Abel Tasman, who enters the Acorn off her Kentucky Oaks win, is still developing, said Smith.
"She's just starting to grow into that body," he said. "She's really big and tall and leggy. And she's just starting to really get more muscle on her and is able to control her body a whole lot better.
"She's extremely talented."
Bob Baffert trains Abel Tasman and Mor Spirit, and he also is the trainer of Arrogate. Arrogate won the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March at Meydan.
"Those two races alone just made my whole year, not to mention that he's a horse of a career, a horse of a lifetime," Smith said. "I am excited about him starting back up again this year."
Baffert also has named Smith to ride American Anthem in the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens and West Coast in the $150,000 Easy Goer on Saturday.
"Mike knows his horses," Baffert said. "He goes in with a game plan, and if he has the horse, it will work. If he doesn't have the horse, it's not going to work. When I have him on there, I don't have to worry about, 'I wonder if he'll do the right thing?' I don't have to map out, 'Look, Mike, I want you to do this and this and that.' You just throw him up there and say, 'Good luck, Mike.'
"You have to have racing luck. You're not going to have it all the time, but lately, we have."
Meantime gives Smith a shot at a third Belmont Stakes win. Smith won the race in 2010 with Drosselmeyer and in 2013 with Palace Malice. Earlier in his career, Smith spent 13 years based at Belmont.
"Belmont's tricky because of its size," Smith said. "A lot of people think it's got a long stretch, but it really doesn't, to me anyway. It's the turns that are so big. They're big turns, and you can do too much in them. You can do too little in them, or you can use them to your advantage. There's so many different things you can do on that racetrack. Knowing it really helps. If you're riding it for the first time, it can fool you. You pull that trigger a little soon, and, man, it's just like, 'Wow!' You keep turning and turning and turning, and you wonder when you're going to come out of the turn!"
Smith has been on top of his game for a long time, and he is particularly enjoying his year. He was quick to credit the work of his agent, Brad Pegram.
"I'm just in a good place personally in my life," Smith said. "Very happy. I know what it takes to win these kinds of races, and as you get older, you realize what people put into it. From the time they spent the money on this horse, there's a lot of time and preparation, and it's not to be taken lightly. I take it seriously."
Smith, whose first win came June 12, 1982, at Santa Fe in his native New Mexico, is third among jockeys in career mount earnings in North America with $296 million. He has won more than 850 stakes -- 545 of them graded -- and had 5,396 wins in North America through Wednesday. Smith said he hopes to ride professionally for about four or five more years.
"I can't imagine myself not doing something in this industry when it's over," he said.
Until then, Smith will be looking to keep his momentum going on the racetrack and on the road.