In five tries, he came closest to winning the Kentucky Derby in 2007, when Hard Spun finished second, and again in 2008, when filly Eight Belles finished second against all-male competition.
She broke down galloping out beyond the finish line at Churchill Downs. A horrified crowd watched as Eight Belles sustained compound fractures to both front ankles and was euthanized on the track. She was buried in the garden of the Kentucky Derby Museum at the track.
Porter and Larry Jones, who trained Eight Belles, were harshly criticized by animal rights activists at the time, which Smith said was unfair.
“They loved horses more than anybody,” he said.
Hard Spun finished third in the 2007 Preakness and was runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year.
Porter made his mark with other horses in Breeders’ Cup competition. Songbird won the Juvenile Fillies in 2015 and was second in the Distaff the following year. Round Pond won the Distaff in 2006.
Omaha Beach finished second in the BC Dirt Mile in 2019, the same year the colt was the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He had to drop out four days before the race because of an entrapped epiglottis, which required minor surgery. Richard Mandella, the colt’s trainer, recalled informing Porter.
“Nobody could have taken the news better than Mr. Porter did,” Mandella told AP. “It was always, ‘Do the right thing.’”
Porter, who was from Wilmington, Delaware, bought his first horse in 1994. It wasn’t long before he found the winner’s circle on a regular basis.
Songbird earned Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old filly in 2015 and champion 3-year-old filly the following year. She won 13 of 15 career races and had earnings of $4.6 million. Smith was her regular rider. His friendship with Porter went back to 2000, when Smith rode filly Jostle to victory in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. They spoke by phone every couple weeks.
“He was someone I looked up to that I could talk to about anything in life,” the jockey said. “We’d talk about horses for about five minutes and the other 15 minutes would be about life and the world.”
Mandella said he and Porter became good friends through their phone conversations more than any time they spent together.
“It would just be a joyous time,” the trainer recalled. “He was one of the most patriotic people I ever met. It was just such a pleasure to be involved with him.”
Mandella and Smith said Porter never burdened others with his ongoing health issues.
“I’d talk about it and he’d hush me up and go on to another subject,” Smith recalled. “I’m greatly going to miss him.”