`Jones' story overtakes the Philadelphia story

Preakness Stakes

May 16, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

DO NOT be taken in by the great story of Smarty Jones any longer.

Do not be fooled by the Philadelphia hoopla or the parochial references to the Phillies or Flyers or the last time that sports-crazed city saw one of its teams win a title. It was the 76ers, back in 1983. No wonder they're always booing Santa Claus. No wonder Smarty Jones is remaking Philly the city of equine love.

Do not be hoodwinked by the fanfare for a common man, which is the theme for every down-home, not-so-blue-blood connection to Smarty Jones.

"Pennsylvania, baby!" screamed one of the cigarette-smoking, Sears-not-Brooks-Brothers horde that flocked to the Pimlico winner's circle yesterday.

Smarty Jones' human connections and hangers-on are just fine. They're great. But it's not about them anymore. It's all about the horse now.

What a horse.

Did you see him flying past the finish line at Pimlico yesterday evening? Eleven-and-a-half lengths ahead of Rock Hard Ten as if that talented colt with a tremendous second gear were a $10,000 claimer.

"I knew my horse had another gear. I just didn't know Smarty Jones had two more gears," jockey Gary Stevens said after he watched Smarty Jones leave Rock Hard Ten in a squall of dust down the stretch.

Here is all we need to know about Smarty Jones now:

He crossed the finish line stretched out, ears up, relaxed.

He never needed the sting of the whip to urge him on at any point in the race, even when it took him until the final turn to make his brilliant move to go inside the pacesetting Lion Heart.

His margin of victory is a Preakness record, not that Smarty Jones' jockey, Stewart Elliott, wanted to concede anything, so Elliott moved Smarty to the rail as he glided down the stretch to make sure no closer could hope to find the prime lane.

Smarty Jones didn't just win the 129th Preakness, he soared.

Smarty Jones collected the second jewel of the Triple Crown so easily, it has sent a ripple of anticipation through racing yet again. Six times now over the past eight Triple Crown series, we have gone to Belmont looking for a horse to join the ranks of legends.

There were Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic and War Emblem - all of whom carried big dreams in New York only to find that final quarter-mile of the marathon Belmont crushing to their legs and spirit, not to mention dealing a disquieting blow to the collective dream.

One year ago, we jumped on the Funny Cide bandwagon, believing the New York gelding's 9 3/4 -length Preakness victory stood him in good stead for the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont.

But there was Empire Maker, the strong, fresh, talented colt that super-trainer Bobby Frankel kept out of the Preakness and prepped perfectly for the Belmont. Funny Cide found that extra quarter-mile too much to handle in the grueling Triple Crown schedule, and Empire Maker was a back-breaker.

This time, it's different. This time, there is no Empire Maker waiting to spoil Smarty Jones' party.

The horse heading to Belmont with a shot at immortality is unbeaten. Eight-for-eight is Smarty Jones. Undefeated - with talent to spare.

"That horse is as good as I've ever seen," said Stevens after the horse he flew back from Paris to ride, Rock Hard Ten, got smoked down the stretch by Smarty Jones.

"I've seen some good ones, and I've been on some good ones, and I was on a good one today. Smarty really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away," Stevens said.

Oddly enough, Secretariat lurks in Smarty Jones. Four generations back, but the bloodlines and genes are strong. So is the sense that this horse is not done maturing into something special.

"The closer he gets to the paddock, the more he transforms into something special," trainer John Servis said.

"I know I said this before. ... He's really matured and learned how to race. He has that tactical speed. He has the ability to go to the next gear the way he does. I think there's room for improvement."

In other words, the Belmont could be as perfect for Smarty Jones as the Derby and Preakness.

That's why the story about Smarty Jones isn't the story about the people around him.

Sure, it's tempting to concentrate on it. It's been such a great story the past two weeks, when all the people surrounding the Pennsylvania-bred colt took a turn on center stage.

There's the 39-year-old no-name jockey, Stewart Elliott, who failed to disclose on a racing license application an assault conviction and had to spend Preakness week answering questions, revealing his recovery from alcoholism, and getting fined $1,000 in Kentucky.

There's the straight-shooting, lung-impaired former car dealer owner, Roy Chapman, who uses an oxygen tank around the clock and has said if he dies tomorrow, he'll have absolutely no complaints.

There's the no-name trainer, John Servis, who toiled at Philadelphia Park, a track that will never be confused with the epicenter of thoroughbred racing.

There was even the murder of the trainer who recommended Smarty Jones' dam, I'll Get Along, to the Chapmans and then later suggested they breed her to Elusive Quality.

There is the story of how the colt that cost $50,000 ($40,000 for the dam and $10,000 for stud fees) has now collected a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park and is headed to New York to try to win another $5 million Triple Crown bonus.

But the people and their money don't matter. What matters is the colt who has now moved from bit player in the sweeping saga of Smarty Jones to be the whole story, the only story.

1 ... 2 ... 3?

Smarty Jones is the sixth horse in the past eight years to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. How those horses fared in the Belmont:

Year Horse Belmont

1997 Silver Charm Second

1998 Real Quiet Second

1999 Charismatic Third

2002 War Emblem Eighth

2003 Funny Cide Third

2004 Smarty Jones

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