Back in 1973, jockeys like Laffit Pincay and Sandy Hawley where at the top of the jockey standings. Years later both would be inducted into the Hall of Fame but for me one of the most memorable riders of that time never won a riding title or a major stakes race. Yet she was one of the first, if not the first, female rider to compete competitively on the NYRA circuit. Her name was Robin Smith.
I can’t remember how much in purses Pincay won that year or how many races Hawley won but I vividly remember those cold days at Aqueduct in the winter and spring of 1973. Secretariat had served notice that he was back in a big way with a victory in the Bay Shore and Robin Smith was sending shock waves through the male dominated sport with her winning rides on Alfred Vanderbilt’s, North Sea in the Paumonok (defeating Secretariat’s future conquerer, Onion) and a few weeks later the Westchester Handicap. Unfairly, rumors of goldigging followed Smith, as she allegedly had a relationship with Vanderbilt. Although I never read about it in the Form.
I still remember a palpable sense of disbelief as Robin Smith strode back to the winners circle after winning the Westchester which was a respected handicap in those days. In those days before Julie Krone, a woman winning a stakes race in New York was as if the world had been turned upside down. Smith’s career faded as the 70s closed and shortly thereafter she married legendary dancer and racing fan, Fred Astaire, who was fifty years her senior. I haven’t heard or seen an article in the racing media about her in many years but for a few weeks there in the spring of 1973, Robin Smith turned the racing world upside down.