Today, field of Breeders' Cup Classic will really be chasing Smarty Jones

Retired winner of Derby, Preakness on inside track for Horse of Year honors

October 30, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Smarty Jones, despite his name's having a Texas ring to it, is nowhere to be found in the Lone Star State. But his presence is strongly felt as the Breeders' Cup unveils its 21st edition today at Lone Star Park near Dallas.

Smarty Jones' spectacular popularity - as he sizzled through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to burn out in the Belmont - dominated racing as well as captured the fancy of non-racing fans. When he was retired this summer and sent to Kentucky for a career as a stallion, racing deflated with the disappointment of losing another star.

The Breeders' Cup will determine whether Smarty Jones lives on merely in people's memories or in the history book of champions. Horse of the Year and nearly every other North American championship for horse and human are on the line in the eight Breeders' Cup races for fillies and mares, turf specialists and dirt runners, Europeans and Americans, 2-year-olds and veterans.

Any of six horses could win the vote for Horse of the Year by capturing the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the richest race on the continent: Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Classic last year and the $6 million Dubai World Cup this year; Ghostzapper and Roses in May, who are undefeated this year; Birdstone, who upset Smarty Jones in the Belmont and then won the Travers; Funny Cide, who won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and Azeri, who captured Horse of the Year in 2002 and would become the first female to win the Classic.

Bobby Frankel, who trains Ghostzapper and three other Breeders' Cup entrants, agrees that the race for Horse of the Year is that wide-open. On the other hand, Bob Baffert, who trains Roman Ruler in the Juvenile, said that only Pleasantly Perfect can overtake Smarty Jones.

"I think the Classic is a phenomenal race, but Pleasantly Perfect is definitely the best horse," Baffert said. "Then again, don't forget Smarty Jones; people have short memories. Smarty Jones was all racehorse. Man, that Preakness, when I watched that race I got goosebumps."

Funny Cide, who became the people's favorite last year with scintillating victories in the first two classics, passed the torch to Smarty Jones. Now, Funny Cide may be about to take it back.

He's matured as a 4-year-old, mentally and physically, and no horse here looks better - although many look dazzling. Funny Cide is richly dappled and, according to his handlers, has never been better.

"I'm expecting him to run his best race," said Robin Smullen, Funny Cide's exercise rider and assistant trainer.

That said, no one really knows what to expect at Lone Star, which opened in 1997 and has never hosted a Breeders' Cup. The track between Dallas and Fort Worth was designed to seat about 12,000 people. For the Breeders' Cup, expected to draw more than 50,000, workers installed about 38,000 temporary seats.

It's been hot and humid - and rainy. The forecast for today is mostly sunny with temperatures in the 70s.

Even the Europeans, some of whom envisioned a desert, have praised the turf course. It resembles a golf fairway with give. The dirt track favors speed, so no one's sure how closers will fare in these world-class races. History doesn't help, because Lone Star has never run a Grade I or even a Grade II stakes.

What is indisputable is that Lone Star, and Texas, have revealed what exactly it is about the state that's bigger: hospitality. Visitors can't stop remarking upon the friendliness of the natives.

The Breeders' Cup itself, however, has not been friendly to select jockeys and trainers. Frankel is 2-for-57. Baffert is 3-for-40. Nick Zito, who trains Birdstone in the Classic and Sun King in the Juvenile, is 1-for-21.

Edgar Prado, the former Maryland jockey and now a national star, is 0-for-33. He has mounts in all eight races, and a big day could bring his first Eclipse Award and place him alongside Jerry Bailey as the nation's elite riders.

Of course, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile nearly always anoints the Kentucky Derby favorite, yet no winner of the Juvenile has ever won the Derby. It's called a jinx, but it may be a coincidence. The statuesque Roman Ruler, trained by Baffert, could be the one to complete the sweep.

"I'm not going to say he's the one," Baffert said. "I thought Vindication and Point Given were the ones, and it didn't happen. But Roman Ruler, he's right where we want him to be - Texas and the Breeders' Cup."

At a glance

What: 21st Breeders' Cup

When: Today

Where: Lone Star Park, Grand Prairie, Texas

Purses: $14.65 million for eight Grade I races

First race: $2 million Distaff, 1:20 p.m.

Headliner: $4 million Classic, 5:35 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4, 1-6 p.m.

Field for $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Record Last race Earnings Tom Keyser's comment Odds

1. Ghostzapper Bobby Frankel Javier Castellano 9:7-0-1 1st Woodward $916,120 First try at 1 1/4 miles 3-1

2. Freefourinternet Mike Maker G. Kuntzweiler 32:8-3-6 1st Hawthorne $1,047,182 Won Hawthorne at 27-1 50-1

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