Year Inducted: 2010
Born in Daisy, Oklahoma, near Pittsburg (south of McAlester), in 1930, Charley Smith started riding in match races all across Oklahoma and Kansas at an early age.
Soft-spoken by nature, Charley possessed a keen intelligence which enabled him to learn quickly. Racing as a boy against much older men, he learned every trick in the book by the time he started riding in recognized races, mainly at Centennial Race Course in Colorado, Los Alamitos, Pomona and Bay Meadows Race Courses in California and, of course Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.
As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, Charley Smith reigned supreme as the top Quarter Horse jockey in the nation. Generations of riders learned by watching him and by competing against him. Eventually he made California his home base, and he became the dean of the great jockey colony there until he retired from the saddle in 1974.
Charley never wanted to wander far from the action of the sport he loved so dearly, so it was a natural that he went to work for Los Alamitos Race Course. A master carpenter, Charley Smith continued to be a fixture at Los Alamitos until his health began to decline.
As a jockey, Charley was a masterful judge of horses. In 1961 he encouraged Walt Harris to continue with the old warrior Pap, and by the end of the season, they had wrapped up another World Champion Gelding title to match the one they’d earned in 1959. For legendary trainer Newt Keck, Charley rode the great Goetta to an incredible string of victories, earning her titles as World Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 1963, then returning with a near perfect season to reign as overall World Champion of 1964. But it was another legendary horse who would always be Charley’s favorite and that horse was Jet Deck.
It was in the spring of 1962 when Charley first discovered the magic which was hidden within the plain-looking bay colt who frustrated all the riders who tried to ride him. Jet Deck had a terrible habit of ducking out from under his riders at the slightest provocation or even no provocation at all. Charley and trainer Wilbur Stuchal worked tirelessly with Jet Deck and made him World Champion Two-Year-Old Colt despite failing to qualify for the All American Futurity. As a Three-Year-Old in 1962, they rewrote the record books, sweeping to a unanimous choice as World Champion.
To his final day in 2015, Charley believed Jet Deck was the fastest horse that ever lived. Oklahoma has produced many fine jockeys, but none finer than the great Charley Smith, a true Oklahoma Racing Legend.