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Mike Smith finishes legendary day at Belmont

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Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith stole the show Saturday at Belmont Park, winning five races, including three Grade 1 performances.

BELMONT, N.Y. – Tapwrit won the biggest race in New York on Saturday

But it was Mike Smith that won the day.

With an incredible card that included six Grade 1 races, Belmont Stakes day went to the Hall of Fame jockey that rode in incendiary fashion Saturday, burning the field in five races, winning four of those with trainer Bob Baffert.

Smith’s best ride came in the G1 Acorn Stakes, where he and Abel Tasman came from 11 lengths off the pace at the final turn of the one mile race—hugging the rail with surgical precision along the way—to take down Salty by just under a length with a final time of 1:35.37 in the run for three-year-old fillies.  The jockey used a similar strategy with Abel Tasman in the G1 Kentucky Oaks, which he won as a 13-1 longshot.

“The older he gets the better he gets,” said Bob Baffert of Smith.  “Mike, he knows I have confidence in him, whether it is right or wrong.  You have to have mutual respect for each other.  You have to trust each other so there’s really less pressure.”

The man they call ‘Big Money’ tackled the rest of the day with dominance, winning the G1 Ogden Phipps with the sensational Songbird, moving the heavily favored horse to 12-1 on her career.  Songbird, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was the only winning horse Smith saddled Saturday that did not come from the Baffert barn.

“It was incredible,” Smith told reporters of his Saturday at Belmont.  “I’m thrilled to be back here.”

Smith rode the New York circuit for 11 years starting in 1989.  With a familiarity of the big sandy, the jockey took down the 2010 and 2013 Belmont Stakes, but had never recorded four G1 stakes wins on any single race card in his career until Saturday.

The 51-year-old veteran took down his most emotional win of the day, the G1 Met Mile with Mor Spirit, beating Sharp Azteca by 6 ¼ lengths, locking in a time of 1:33.71.  The last time Smith won the 126-year-old race was back on 1994 with Holy Bull, who died last week at the age of 26.

“I’m blessed to be riding on these really nice horses for Bob right now,” Smith said.  “Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time, and it just happens that Bob decided to use me.”

Smith also rode American Anthem to the winner’s circle in the G2 Woody Stephens, and West Coast in the Easy Goer, both Baffert-trained horses.

The man behind the dollar sign nickname has now added to a lifetime earnings of close to $300 million with just under 33,000 starts under his belt.  He now has 35 wins in 2017 with earnings that have reached over $18 million.  His stunning day at Belmont was worth over three million dollars in itself.  Smith and Mor Spirit took down a $1.25 million purse in the Met Mile.

Despite his legendary day Saturday, Smith could not close out with a Belmont Stakes victory, finishing in eighth place aboard the 13-1 Meantime, 28 ¾ lengths behind the winner Tapwrit, who he faced when saddling Girvin in the Kentucky Derby.

As hard as it is to believe, not even Mike Smith can win them all.  But he sure came close Saturday. 

We miss what we never had. In 2013-15, the sample cart finally swung around the Pittsburgh Pirates fanbase, and it sprinkled on the palate what these devoted enthusiasts have been missing out on since the early ‘90s: glory.
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