May 31, 2006 — Legendary steeplechase trainer Daniel M. “Mikey” Smithwick died May 29 of a form of Parkinson’s disease. He was 77.
Smithwick was the king of American steeplechase trainers, winning a dozen National Steeplechase Association championships between 1957 and 1970 (including seven in a row from 1964-70). Six of his horses earned nine steeplechase championships, with three being elected into Thoroughbred Racing’s Hall of Fame. Smithwick was enshrined there in 1971, two year before his older brother Patrick (a four-time champion steeplechase jockey).
Before becoming a trainer, Smithwick gained a reputation as a top amateur steeplechase jockey. He won the Maryland Hunt Cup, America’s most prestigious timber race, a record six times with Peterski in 1948, Pine Pep in 1949, 1950 and 1952, Marchized in 1954 and Fluctuate in 1960. Other highlights included three wins in the My Lady’s Manor, five in the Grand National timber race and three in the Virginia Gold Cup.
“He’d ridden so many races himself that he could describe exactly how to do it,” said his son D.M. “Speedy” Smithwick Jr., who won three runnings of the Iroqouis aboard his father’s Uncle Edwin. “Then he would say, ‘and you’ve got to be ready to go to Plan B if you have to.’ He was a tremendous rider–more at home on a horse than on foot.”
As a trainer, Smithwick had few peers. At 28 in 1956, he took over the training for the stable of Lillian Phipps, then the sport’s top owner. The next year, Smithwick won 38 races to take his first training title and campaigned champion horse Neji. The success continued with races-won championships in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. He led the circuit in earnings in 1957-59, 1961-62 and 1964-70. During his career (which spanned the years 1955-2000), his horses earned more than $4.3 million dollars, still eighth on the all-time National Steeplechase Association list.
Equine stars Neji (who won individual titles in 1957 and 1958 for Smithwick, and 1955 for Pete Bostwick), Ancestor (the 1959 champion), Bon Nouvel (champion in 1964, 1965 and 1968), Mako (1968), Top Bid (1970) and Straight And True (1976) passed through the barn. Other stars included multiple Maryland Hunt Cup winner Jay Trump, three-time Iroquois (Gr. I) winner Uncle Edwin. Smithwick trained Happy Intellectual to three consecutive wins in the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga at ages 10, 11 and 12 in 1976-78.
Smithwick’s charges Neji, Bon Nouvel and Jay Trump would later receive induction into racing’s Hall of Fame.
Regardless of ability, all horses and people got a chance at Smithwick’s Hydes, Md. farm.
“His favorite thing was to teach people about horses–young people, old people, it didn’t matter,” said “Speedy” Smithwick, now a trainer based in Kentucky. “He was a terrific teacher and I think he enjoyed that the most.”
The Smithwicks were born in Baltimore and grew up in the suburban horse country near Monkton. Their father Alfred, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s, was the honorary huntsman and manager of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club (where the family lived and the two boys learned their horsemanship). The family relocated to the farm in Hydes, where “Mikey” Smithwick made his home until his death.
Smithwick is survived by his wife Dot Smithwick, sons D.M. “Speedy” Smithwick Jr. and Roger Smithwick, longtime companion Alexandra White, and two granddaughters.
A memorial service will be held Monday, June 5 at 2 p.m. at St. James Church at 3100 Monkton Road in Monkton, Md. with a reception to follow at Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club on Pocock Road in Monkton.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Maryland 4-H Foundation, 8020 Greenmead Drive, College Park, Md., 20740.