Friday, April 16, 2010

America's Horse

After two scintillating performances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the speedy chestnut, headed into the Belmont Stakes as an overwhelming favorite. He seemed to have the best chance of any horse end the Triple Crown drought that had lasted for 26 years. With an entire nation behind him, cheering as he entered the top of the Belmont stretch, he looked a sure winner, only a furlong away from becoming racing's second undefeated Triple Crown winner.

Smarty Jones would not go on to win the Belmont Stakes. A blistering pace and two huge efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, both in a five week span would prove to much for the colt to overcome. But even as he crossed the wire, a beaten second, the crowd still loved him. Lets rewind a bit to see, just how exactly, Smarty Jones galloped straight into the heart of the nation.

Two of the biggest reasons the nation so readily embraced the colt were because of his history and his connections. America is always ready for a feel good story, an underdog story, and Smarty Jones's story was nothing short of either. Smarty Jones' Owners, the Chapman's had just survived the tragedy of a murder, and that along with Roy Chapman's failing heath caused them to sell of most of their stock, until only a few horses remained, one was Smarty Jones.

Smarty Jones, himself also had survived a horrible ordeal. While gate training, the young colt spooked in the gate. Rearing to the sky, the colt smashed his head into the top of the gate. He was thought to be dead, but somehow the colt managed to not only survive, but recover fully to begin his racing career with a 7 3/4 length romp, following that up with a 15 length thrashing in the Pennsylvania Nursery. Smarty Jones, to put it simply, was a miracle.

He started his three year old season, right where he had left of as a two year old, winning in dominating fashion. He won his three year old debut, the Count Fleet by five lengths. He rolled into Arkansas to sweep Oaklawn's Kentucky Derby prep series, the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby. He was unbeaten and untested, and even though some still doubted his ability to get the 10 furlongs, he entered the Derby as the post time favorite.

I do not remember all the details, but I remember seeing Lion Heart, my first ever Derby pick, jump out of the gate, gunning right to the lead, with Smarty Jones not far behind, rating back in third. The two of them remained the same way throughout the majority of the trip, until they reached the far turn. Smarty began to move for the lead and by the time the two horses hit the top of the stretch they were neck and neck.

I will never forget the call as the two horses began to separate themselves for the rest of the pack. "Lion Heart is all heart, Smarty Jones is all out!" Lion Heart manage to stay with Smarty Jones, but only briefly, before Smarty Jones slowly began to edge away, leaving Lion Heart 2 3/4 lengths behind as they crossed the wire.

Smarty Jones had just become the first unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner since the great Seattle Slew. He had just shoved aside all the doubts about his ability to get the distance, he had just won over the heart of America. After that race Smarty Jones became America's Horse.

As you all know Smarty Jones would go on to win the Preakness by a record setting margin setting the stage for another Triple Crown attempt. Unfortunately, he would fail in his bid for the Triple Crown. It was a heartbreaking defeat for not only the Smarty Jones camp, but for all of America. However, America would not abandon the colt they had fell in love with. Smart Jones may have crossed the wire second, but he would forever remain number one in the hearts of those who had the pleasure to witness him.


  1. Birdstone was a better 12 furlong horse than Smarty Jones, I guess, but Smarty was oh so close to the Crown. It would have been fabulous for racing if he could have have held on, but it was not meant to be. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones all had the crown within their grasp inside the eighth has to happen sooner or later.

  2. I think Smarty could have won the Belmont over Birdstone if he hadn't moved so early in the race. Belmont has a very long stretch and he took the lead right off the backstretch.