At sound of the bell, Mom comes running

Horse racing: Former racehorse Raging Smart may not be able to see, but she's not about to lose track of her filly.

Horse Racing

October 31, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The bell's hollow rattle pierces the heavy stillness, and then here comes Mom.

The blind mare, Raging Smart, keeps her foal in range by the bell hanging on his halter. This is the way it's been since 45 minutes after Raging Smart gave birth April 25, and Joyce and Ray Jones slipped the halter and bell onto the filly's neck.

Motherhood completed the regeneration of Raging Smart, a former one-eyed racehorse who lost her second eye in her 43rd and final race, and then ran upon hard times in neglected retirement.

The Joneses brought her in August 2000 to their Cambria Farm in Carroll County and nursed her back to health, discovering along the way that Raging Smart, whom they nicknamed Smarty, had been valiant in the face of hardship.

"She's adapted to every challenge life has thrown her way, and I think there's been quite a few," Joyce Jones said. "She's met each one with grace and equanimity."

The 9-year-old Raging Smart lives by sound and smell. When she figures out where you are, she reaches out her nose until she feels you. She seldom takes a misstep, even when jogging in her large field, and she only occasionally clunks her head against a barn wall.

When she gave birth for the first time, she acted as if this were old hat. She's a nurturing mother, not overprotective, but the one time her baby lost his bell she squealed and carried on because she'd lost her.

"She's so normal, sometimes I forget she's blind," Joyce said. "She just needs to know what's expected of her and where she is. She's got a wonderful temperament."

When the Joneses agreed to take Raging Smart, they knew only that she was a daughter of Smarten, a top stallion now pensioned at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County, and needed loving care. She was malnourished after indifferent treatment at a farm the Joneses declined to identify.

They found out later she had been successful at the track, finishing first, second or third 20 of 43 times, mostly at Pimlico and Laurel Park. She set a track record at Colonial Downs, covering 1 3/4 miles on turf in 2 minutes, 45.22 seconds.

They discovered she had a stellar pedigree worthy of perpetuation, so after Raging Smart regained her strength, they bred her to Malibu Moon, a young stallion at Country Life Farm near Bel Air. The Joneses hope the developing colt joins their modest racing band, which currently numbers four.

They usually populate their 32 acres west of Westminster with about 15 horses, of which six are mares. They do all their farm work themselves, despite full-time jobs.

Joyce works as accounts payable manager at Symphony Health Services in Sparks. Ray is a professor of pathology at the University of Maryland Medical School.

Raging Smart, for her portfolio, won four times racing with one eye, but could have won more. Mark Johnston rode her frequently when Baird Brittingham's Lakeville Stables owned her and King T. Leatherbury trained her.

"She was kind of tough to ride, because she was scared to go inside a horse," Johnston said. "She didn't like horses outside of her, I guess because she could see them with her right eye.

"You always had to circle the field with her. She was just real happy racing in the middle of the track. That's where she did all her running. It was a shame, because it was such a handicap to lose as much ground as she did. She got beat a lot of times because you just couldn't get a good trip."

Johnston's words bear out. Raging Smart, a winner of only four, finished second nine times and third seven times. Here are typical comment lines: "Angled 8-wide, rallied," "Came very wide, closed," and "Best too late, widest."

Elizabeth Schultz, a Frederick County veterinarian, bred Raging Smart and raced her seven times, until Leatherbury claimed her.

Schultz said the filly suffered a scratched cornea in her first race, on March 26, 1996, at Pimlico. Infection set in. Despite treatment at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, Raging Smart lost all vision in her right eye.

She lost vision in her left eye in her last race, July 10, 1999, at Penn National. Ronny Brown, then her trainer, said she got hit in the eye with a pebble or jockey's whip or something. Within a day or two, she'd lost all sight.

Still, in that last race, Raging Smart finished fifth, earning $330. She earned a check in all but six of her 43 races, bankrolling $88,083.

Three years later, Raging Smart lifts her head out of the damp grass when she hears the gate rattle. Ray Jones pushes the gate open, and he and Joyce step into the paddock lush from fall rains.

Of the four horses in the field - two mares with their foals - Raging Smart, surprisingly, leads the way. She thinks they're going to feed her, Ray said, laughing.

"She's a good girl," Joyce said, stroking Smarty's neck while pushing aside the probing, jealous nose of her foal. The two will remain together for another month, and then the filly will be weaned from her mother.

Joyce and Ray have thought it all out. One morning, they'll remove the bell from the foal's halter and lead her to a new field. Raging Smart will be led to her familiar paddock with the other mare.

The Joneses expect Smarty to carry on for a while, as all mothers do, but they also expect her to adjust quickly, as routinely happens. They plan on keeping the bell handy, because they figure on breeding Raging Smart next year.

Until she gives birth again, though, one thing's for certain. It's going to be awfully quiet around Cambria Farm without that bell.

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