Bob Baffert's top jockey, Mike Smith, blew a substantial lead down the stretch in each Triple Crown contest this year.
For one of horse racing's most prominent names, multiple losses of this caliber are unacceptable. Someone must suffer, and Smith is the obvious candidate.
A jockey must understand how to maneuver his horse through the racing field. He must know where to position himself down the stretch, and he must realize when it's time to turn on the jets.
Smith failed aboard Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Failing as Paynter's rider in Saturday's Belmont was unthinkable.
But Smith relinquished the lead again.
Let's take a look at what Smith did wrong and why Baffert cannot tolerate repeated failure.
How Smith Failed on Belmont's Final Lengths
Whispers crept to a dull roar after Bodemeister blew his second straight lead in last month's Preakness Stakes. I'll Have Another chased down Baffert's prized steed, and Mario Gutierrez bested Smith for the second straight run.
Allowing the same thing to happen in the Belmont Stakes is absolutely inexcusable. Handing Union Rags the lead in the race's final push was the result of one massive error in judgment.
Coming down the backstretch, Paynter led by a sizable margin. He led most of the race, and he didn't appear to waver whatsoever.
But Smith didn't account for John Velazquez's perfectly-timed kick and Union Rags' subsequent sprint. He failed to shut off the rail, and committed racing's cardinal sin.
Giving up the rail enabled Union Rags to claim inside position. Smith didn't slow his momentum at all, and Paynter had no chance of holding him off.
Smith needed to see Union Rags coming and bank his horse to the left. This would have narrowed the space between Paynter and the rail.
Forcing Union Rags to hesitate, even for a second, would have made the ultimate difference in Saturday;s outcome.
Why Smith Must Go
Failing to wrap up your sports' biggest contest once is one thing, but three times? That's incomprehensible.
Smith failed Baffert, a member of the horse racing hall of fame and victor in nine Triple Crown contests, in this year's most crucial moments.
He could have lost any other race. Lose the Arkansas Derby, the Florida Derby and any race at the Aqueduct. That's fine.
But losing these three races in such disappointing fashion should be enough to dismiss Smith from his current position.
There isn't an esteemed jockey who wouldn't ride for Baffert, and there isn't anyone Baffert can't afford. He demands top-notch performances, and he shouldn't be patient when those are not delivered.
Two elite horses were entered this year in Baffert's name. The horses did their jobs during the race and Baffert prepared each horse well.
Smith's inability to hold up his end of the bargain makes him the weak link in this situation. Horse racing doesn't have enough momentous moments to tolerate mediocrity.
Win, or pay the price.
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