`Jones' racing career is over

Derby, Preakness winner has chronic bone bruising

Retirement bad news for sport

Colt's Triple Crown bid grabbed national spotlight

Horse Racing

August 03, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Smarty Jones, the 3-year-old chestnut colt who breathed new life into thoroughbred racing this season with a spirited bid to win the Triple Crown, was retired yesterday after tests revealed chronic bone bruising in his hoofs.

The horse, who won the Kentucky Derby and captured the Preakness by a historic margin, had not raced since finishing second to Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes on June 5. He was originally scheduled to run in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 5, but a bruise on his left front hoof forced him to pull out.

Though Smarty Jones' trainer, John Servis, was hoping the colt would be ready to return for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 30, more extensive tests over the weekend revealed bruises to the bottom of the cannon bone in all four fetlock joints, prompting the decision to retire him.

"It's tough," Servis said. "We had a great ride with him and he's a great racehorse. The thing that bothers me is that some people didn't really get a chance to see how talented he was. The Preakness was the tip of the iceberg. ... He was so immature, and he was just putting it together. It really hurts me because I think he might have been the best of all time."

The type of bruising afflicting Smarty Jones is not usually career threatening, according to Dr. Larry Bramlage of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, who treated the colt. With several months of rest, he said, it was possible Smarty Jones could be healthy enough to race again as a 4-year-old.

However, the timing of the injury forced the horse's owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman - as well as Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky - to make the decision to retire him now.

After Smarty Jones nearly became the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, the farm spent more than $20 million to acquire 50 percent of his breeding rights.

"We're faced with a horse here that would need a minimum of three months rest," said Robert Clay, owner of Three Chimneys Farm. "That gets him to the end of [this] racing season. The question is, are we going to overuse this horse and abuse this horse so that we can find out if he can make it back to the races by the middle of next year?"

Clay said that might have prevented Smarty Jones from standing for next spring's breeding season, "and that's one less year we have to look at Smarty Jones' babies. There's no hiding behind the fact that economics always plays into any decision."

The Chapmans said yesterday the decision was very difficult. Smarty Jones won eight races, remaining undefeated through the Preakness, and earned $7,563,535 in purse money. But perhaps more importantly, he gave the mainstream public a reason to care about thoroughbred racing again at a time when the sport was in need of a boost.

Many within the industry were hoping he would continue to cement his legacy as one of the great horses of all time by continuing to race.

"We'd like to see him run again," Pat Chapman said. "We know that the public would love it - not just racing fans but all of America. But if anything happened to him, if anything else went wrong, it would break our hearts."

Servis and the Chapmans are planning to have Smarty Jones make at least one farewell appearance for his fans at his home track in Pennsylvania, and possibly at other tracks.

Roy Chapman bristled at the suggestion that the Chapmans might be "taking the money and running" when the racing industry desperately needs horses with Smarty Jones' star power.

Though the colt's stud fee won't be determined for a few weeks, he is certain to bring in millions of dollars when he retires to Three Chimneys, where he will occupy the former stall of Seattle Slew.

"We could have sold this horse before the Derby, before the Preakness and before the Belmont," he said. "The people that wanted to buy him, they asked to send us a blank check and said just fill it out. If we were interested in just the money, that would have been the time we would have sold him."

Maryland's racing industry likely won't feel the direct effects of Smarty Jones' retirement, according to Alan Foreman, a board member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and lawyer for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. However, indirectly, losing a horse with Smarty Jones' appeal is a blow to the entire sport.

"Your goal is to try and develop stars to bring people out," Foreman said. "It's sad to see, because this was a phenomenon unlike any I'd ever seen."

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