by Johnny D
June 16, 2017
Last Friday night, Actor Adam West died at age 88. Originally, he became famous for playing the lead role in Batman, a hit campy, classic 1960s ABC television series known for comic book graphical exclamations of “Bam!” “Pow” “Zap!” and more. The role branded West for life and limited opportunities for him in future serious roles. However, despite this apparent case of typecasting, West, reportedly, never was bitter and remained proud and fortunate to have been a part of television history.
Of course, the ‘Caped Crusader’ wouldn’t have been nearly as effective fighting crime without trusty sidekick Robin. Bert Ward, now 71, played Robin to West’s Batman on television. The role at times called for Robin to utter silly exclamations always predicated by the word ‘Holy,’ as in “Holy Here We Go Again” or “Holy Egg Shells” or “Holy Davy Jones.” Anyway, you get the point. If so inclined, a comprehensive list of Robin’s 367 ‘Holy’ exclamations can be found on the Internet—along with videos of cats doing everything except…well, I can’t think of anything they’re not doing.
Saturday afternoon, on Belmont Stakes Day in the real Gotham City, a different dynamic duo karmically clicked to win four—count ‘em—F-O-U-R—stakes races. ‘Batman’ Bob Baffert spurned cowl and cap for coat and tie to saddle Grade 1, $1.2 Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Mile winner Mor Spirt; Grade 1 $700,000 Acorn winner Abel Tasman; Grade 2 Woody Stephens hero American Anthem and Easy Goer star West Coast.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, playing the role of Robin to Baffert’s Batman, donned assorted silks instead of mask and cape to ride all four winners. Smith’s contributions as Robin were indispensable. Of particular note was astute guidance provided Kentucky Oaks heroine Abel Tasman. Gaining ground on the turn for home under a full head of steam, Smith angled the filly toward a freshly hatched opening along the rail. That maneuver proved decisive as ‘Tas determinedly churned home a mere length ahead of Salty. Geometrically speaking, ground saved made all the difference between victory and defeat.
When horses run as fast and win by as far as Baffert’s remaining Saturday trio did—Mor Spirit (117 Beyer) by 6 ¼ lengths; West Coast (99 Beyer) by 3 ¾ lengths and American Anthem (102 Beyer) 3 ¼ lengths—it’s understandable for analysts to downplay a jockey’s role. After all, isn’t the room full of guys in white pants that can capably point a fit and fast horse in the proper direction?
Yes and no. Discounting Smith’s contribution to the cause would be an error in judgment worthy of a 120-plus Beyer figure—as ludicrous as a suggestion that Batman ever could have succeeded without Robin!
A hot jockey subsidizes victory in ways humans can’t comprehend. Horseplayers, on the other hand, get it. If dogs ‘smell’ fear in strangers, it’s only logical that Thoroughbreds ‘sense’ confidence in the saddle. And Smith, in case you haven’t noticed, has been on quite a roll. Lately, he’s won about every big race from California to Florida to New York to Dubai. At 52, he’s riding as well as ever…maybe better. The roster of horses scheduled to occupy the space between his calves and thighs in the next six months is the most impressive ever. Forget the ’27 Yankees. Murderer’s Row’s got nothing on this lineup! Smith’s roster is deeper and more potent than Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel et al because each inning they’ll be banking Benjamins instead of scoring runs.
Saturday, Smith also guided Songbird to a measured one-length victory over Paid Up Subscriber in the Grade 1, $750,000 Odgen Phipps for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. That victory registered the afternoon’s fifth score by Southern California based runners! The ironic twist is that, just a few days earlier, Santa Anita was forced to abandon Thursday racing because they didn’t have enough entries to fill a suitable racing card. The Stronach Group’s Tim Ritvo, racetrack revivalist from Florida and Maryland, currently is attempting to right a ship that some say has sprung a substantial leak. And yet, on Belmont Stakes day on the other side of the nation in front of the entire racing word, the California contingent bagged five stakes races!
Whatever Golden State racing may lack in quantity clearly is made up for in quality!
Of course, when it came to the afternoon’s main event the Belmont Stakes, Batman Baffert didn’t have a starter and Robin Smith (there once was a talented female jockey named Robyn Smith who became Mrs. Fred Astaire, but that’s another story) was aboard longshot Meantime. Smith and his mount forced the pace outside of eventual runner up Irish War Cry for a while, but then finished eighth.
Tapwrit, who we accurately tabbed as the Belmont winner in this space, had a perfect journey and out-finished Irish War Cry (listed second in this space) on the square to win carnations. Patch (a longshot we didn’t see but had with an ‘All’ trifecta suggestion), finished well clear of Gormley in third.
Overall, this season’s Belmont Stakes was about as exciting as a Belmont Stakes minus the possibility of a Triple Crown and missing both Derby and Preakness winners could be. At this point, the crown that goes to the season’s top 3-year-old colt or gelding is far from engraved and anyone with a candidate for the honor can label him ‘valid.’ Always Dreaming (the Derby seems so long ago), Cloud Computing and Tapwrit share the lead, along with reigning 2-year-old champ Classic Empire. However, each has warts.
As we embark on the second half of 2017 and an entertaining race for top 3-year-old male honors, one ought to remember these famous words exclaimed by Robin (Mike Smith) to Batman (Bob Baffert) last August in the Saratoga winner’s circle following the Travers, “Holy Arrogate, Batman!”
Bam! Pow! Zap! Haskell, Dandy, Travers. As they used to say on television, “Stay Tuned.”