Smith was born Melody Dawn Miller. Her father deserted her and her mother (who was 17 when she was born), and her mother was declared mentally unstable by the courts, who placed Melody in a foster home. She was then adopted by a family who named her Caroline Smith. After a further court case she was returned to her birth mother but later went back to her adoptive family. She may also have later spent time in a children's home or "women's residence."
She became a jockey in 1969 and in 1973 became the first woman to win a major race in the USA (riding North Sea in the Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct), in spite of her size and weight (5'7" is tall for a jockey).
She retired and in 1980 married the actor Fred Astaire (1899-1987), who was 55 years older than she.
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