06/10/2017 6:01PM

Mor Spirit wins Met Mile to cap incredible day for Baffert, Smith

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mor Spirit, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Metropolitan Handicap by 6 1/4 lengths.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert didn’t participate in the biggest race on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card, and for the trainers who did, that was a good thing.

Baffert went 4 for 4 in stakes races Saturday at Belmont Park, capped by a super-impressive 6 1/4-length victory by Mor Spirit in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap. Baffert teamed up with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in four stakes and Smith won five overall, also taking the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the two-time champion Songbird, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.

Baffert and Smith also won the Grade 1 Acorn with Abel Tasman, the Grade 2 Woody Stephens with American Anthem, and the Easy Goer Stakes with West Coast.

“The day was incredible,” Baffert said. “I was hoping to run the table, I just couldn’t believe that we could. I knew I had the horses to do it with, but the odds were stacked against me, especially with Mike Smith winning so many races in one day. What a great day.”

Mike Smith, who used to ride regularly on the New York Racing Association circuit in the mid-1990s, previously won five races at Belmont on May 11, 1991, and at Aqueduct on Nov. 29, 1991. On Oct. 28, 1995, Smith won four graded stakes on one Belmont program, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Incredible,” Smith said of his day. “Glad to be back home.”

Rival jockey John Velazquez, who finished sixth in the Met Mile on Rally Cry, said, “It’s a Mike Smith schooling.”

Smith said that of all the races he wanted to win Saturday, the Met Mile meant the most to him because in 1994, he won this race with Holy Bull, who died this week at the age of 26.

“This was a race I really wanted for sentimental reasons – Holy Bull,” Smith said. “This was one of his best races, and I wanted to win this one for him, and he did it. I said, ‘Run one time for the Bull, buddy,’ and he run just like him.”

Breaking from post 9, Mor Spirit took up a stalking position, just outside of Sharp Azteca, who, under Paco Lopez, set fractions of 23.20 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.05 for the half-mile. Mor Spirit took the lead just outside the quarter pole and opened up in the stretch, galloping away for the easy score as the 5-2 favorite. Mor Spirit ran a mile in 1:33.71 and returned $7.10 as the favorite.

Sharp Azteca finished second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Tommy Macho. He was followed by Awesome Slew, Economic Model, Rally Cry, Tom’s Ready, Solid Wager, Virtual Machine, Denman’s Call, Mohaymen, and Inside Straight.

Mor Spirit, a Grade 1 winner at age 2, finished 10th in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Following that race, he was given time off before coming back in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in December and finishing fourth.

After finishing second to Hoppertunity, also trained by Baffert, in the Grade 2 San Antonio, Mor Sprit was shipped out of town to win the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn and the Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star.

Baffert credited owner Michael Lund Peterson with being patient and letting him basically start over with Mor Spirit.

“He deserves to win a race like this,” Baffert said. “This is what we were pointing for with him. We went through Oaklawn, we went through Lone Star. After the Derby, we freshened him up and said we’re going to have fun with him. So far, he’s been golden.”