As mentioned, to keep this blog
active over the holiday season, I am reprinting a series of race recaps, mainly
from the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup, that originally were published on
Bloodhorse.com over the past decade. A new recap will appear every two days.
The intention is to provide the reader with a kaleidoscope of images and back
stories from these historic races. I hope everyone enjoys them, either again if you've
already read them or for the first time.
We start with
Smarty Jones' Kentucky Derby.
Along Came Jones
Get out the cheese steaks and
pretzels. It's party time in Philly. After Pennsylvania-bred Smarty Jones'
stirring May 1 victory in the 130th Kentucky Derby (gr. I), the City of Brotherly Love has found the real Philadelphia flyer.
Although it sounds like a
children's novel, The Legend of Smarty Jones reads like a soap opera,
complete with murder, misadventure, and debilitating illness. But most of all
it's a story about perseverance and loyalty, and a very special horse, the
likes of whom has not been seen in this country for a very long time. As if
riding in on the tail of the Seabiscuit and Funny Cide comets, Smarty Jones has
carved his own niche in racing folklore. And like The Biscuit and Funny Cide,
he has transcended the sport of Thoroughbred racing, reaching deep into the
heart of mainstream America.
The legend was spawned on Roy and
Pat Chapman's 100-acre Someday Farm in Chester County, Pa., where a chestnut
colt by Elusive Quality out of I'll Get Along, by Smile, was born
on Feb. 28, the same birthdate as Pat Chapman's mother, Mildred, whose nickname
of Smarty Jones was passed on to the young horse. The prologue had been
But the story of the little colt
with the children's book name took a sudden detour when the Chapmans' trainer,
Bob Camac, who had picked out I'll Get Along and recommended Elusive Quality,
was murdered in December 2001 by his stepson, who also killed his mother,
Camac's wife, Maryann.
With Camac's death and Roy
Chapman in ill health, suffering from emphysema, the Chapmans sold most of
their horses, leaving themselves with only two Pennsylvania-bred weanlings, one
of whom was Smarty Jones.
"When Bobby got killed, it
took the starch out of Roy,"
said the Chapmans' former trainer, Mark Reid. The Chapmans decided to keep
Smarty Jones after getting a call from their farm manager, telling them he
thought the colt was something special. The decision was made to keep the horse
and train him at Philadelphia
Park. When Roy Chapman
contacted Reid, now a noted bloodstock agent, and asked him about a possible
trainer, he recommended his former assistant, John Servis. End of Chapter One.
The wheels were now in motion.
The magical journey of Smarty Jones had begun. Seven races and seven victories
later, Smarty, as he is now affectionately known, has captured America's
greatest prize; a $5-million bonus offered by Oaklawn Park; and the hearts of a
nation crying out for heroes.
What was perceived to be the most
muddled Kentucky Derby picture in memory turned out to be crystal clear after
all. With severe thunderstorms rocking Louisville,
and dark, ominous clouds hovering over Churchill Downs as the Derby horses paraded to the post, Smarty
Jones emerged from the murk and the slop like a beacon of light.
The city of Philadelphia erupted, as if their beloved
Flyers had just captured hockey's coveted Stanley Cup, minus the ticker-tape
parade. When Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), the head-on finish shot took up almost the
entire front page of the Philadelphia Daily News, with the headline reading:
"Our Horse in the Derby."
After the Kentucky Derby, fans at
Philadelphia Park let out a rousing ovation never
before heard at the Bensalem track. While most of Servis' employees back at
Philly Park watched the race from either the grandstand or track kitchen,
assistant trainer Maureen Donnelly went home an hour before the race and
watched it with her boyfriend.
Donnelly was still having a tough
time believing what Smarty Jones had accomplished. It was Donnelly who was on a
young 2-year-old having his first gate-schooling session last spring. She
watched in horror as another of their colts, Smarty Jones, reared up, hitting
his head on one of the iron bars that runs across the top of the gate.
Smarty Jones fell to his knees,
blood pouring out of his eye and nostrils. "It was pretty messy,"
Donnelly recalled. "The next day, we thought for sure he was going to lose
the eye, because you couldn't even see the eyeball. It was just the flesh
coming out from inside the socket. He looked like something out of a horror
The scene shifts to the Cream
Ridge, N.J., home of veterinarian Patricia Hogan, who operates the New Jersey
Equine Clinic in Clarksburg,
with founder Dr. Scott Palmer. Hogan watched the Derby with family members and several
employees from the clinic, and when Smarty Jones crossed the finish line in
front, "there was a lot of crying and screaming."
Hogan has vivid memories of the
colt who was rushed to the clinic looking so hideous they nicknamed him
Quasimodo. "His whole face was horrible, and his left eye was so swollen
it wasn't even visible," she said. "I really wasn't sure if I could
save it or not." In addition, Smarty Jones had suffered multiple fractures
of his skull, and the orbit (the circular bone that holds the eyeball) was
But the colt, his head wrapped in
bandages, showed a spirit far beyond that of most horses, and was able to be
nursed back to health with the help of medication to reduce the swelling inside
the eye socket. Hogan knew this was no ordinary horse when Smarty, despite all
his injuries, walked off the van with a spring to his step and his head held
high. After he returned to the track, everyone at the clinic followed his
career closely, clipping out articles about him and posting them in the surgery
"I'm beside myself,"
Hogan said after the Derby.
"It's unbelievable. He was such a special horse and I am so proud of
him." End of Chapter Two.
The next chapter begins in the
paddock at Philadelphia
Park on Nov. 22, 2003.
Smarty Jones had just won his career debut 13 days earlier in open company by 7
3/4 lengths. On this day, he was facing 10 opponents in the state-bred
Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes. Standing in the paddock was Mark McDermott of the
Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. What he saw that day prompted him to
start making phone calls, telling people about a very special Pennsylvania-bred
colt who had renewed his enthusiasm for racing.
"There was this squirrel
that owned the paddock at Philly
said. "He'd walk right up to the horses, and people would feed him. When
Smarty Jones walked in the paddock, the squirrel came over to check him out,
like, 'You're on my turf now.' Smarty jumped straight up in the air, with all
four legs off the ground at the same time. He turned his body while in midair
and lashed out with his hind legs, That was the last anyone saw of the squirrel
for a long time. Smarty landed on all fours and calmly went about his business.
It was the most athletic move I've seen by a horse. Then he goes out and wins
the Nursery by 15 lengths (in 1:21.88 for the seven furlongs) and gets a 105
Beyer Speed Figure. I knew right then this horse was something out of the
After the Nursery, Servis and the
Chapmans began having visions of grandeur that would take them far beyond the
realm of Philadelphia
Park. Forget about being
a Pennsylvania-bred and Philly
Park horse, the Twin
Spires were beckoning. Roy Chapman, head of Chapman Auto Group, had been ill
with emphysema for more than 10 years, and his health was deteriorating. He
required oxygen and a wheelchair to move about, and had recently come down with
a case of pneumonia. So, when Servis planted the seeds of Derby
roses in his head, Chapman said to him, "Do whatever you have to, just get
me to the Derby."
Servis mapped out a plan where
Smarty Jones would get his first two-turn test in Aqueduct's Count Fleet Stakes
on Jan. 3, and then head to Oaklawn
Park for the Southwest
Stakes, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby. He felt so strongly about the colt's
ability, he was confident with this plan, despite the fact Smarty Jones would
not accumulate any graded stakes earnings until the Arkansas Derby. Everything
he did before that would mean nothing if he didn't finish first or second.
With Oaklawn celebrating its
100th anniversary, track president Charles Cella came up with the idea to offer
a $5-million bonus to any horse that could win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and
Kentucky Derby in the hope of luring America's top 3-year-olds to
One victory after another
followed. Smarty Jones captured all three of Oaklawn's Derby
preps, and just like that, the pride of Pennsylvania
was on the verge of winning $5 million and becoming only the fifth undefeated
Kentucky Derby winner, and first since Seattle Slew in 1977.
The Derby trail had been in chaos from the start,
with longshots winning most of the major stakes. Only Imperialism, trained by
21-year-old Kristin Mulhall, and Limehouse had been able to win more than one
graded stakes this year. The picture cleared a bit on April 10 when top-ranked
2-year-olds Tapit and The Cliff's Edge captured the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes
(gr. I), respectively, the same day Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby. In the
Rebel, Smarty had earned a Thoro-Graph speed rating that was the fastest ever
given to a 3-year-old.
Offers to buy the colt, which had
started months earlier, were now rolling in, and reaching figures well into the
millions. Jockey agents from all over the country were hounding Servis, trying
to get him to replace Smarty's regular rider, the Philly Park-based Stewart
Elliott, even though he had ridden the colt perfectly every time. Servis
remained loyal to his rider and stuck with him. The last Derby winner to have a first-time jockey and
trainer was Spectacular Bid in 1979, when Bud Delp and Ron Franklin combined to
win the roses.
After the Arkansas Derby, Servis
sent Smarty Jones to Keeneland, where the atmosphere was quiet. On Thursday,
April 22, nine days before the Derby,
Smarty Jones arrived at Churchill Downs. Unlike most horses, he came charging
off the van and strutted into Barn 42 as if he were announcing to all the
occupants he was taking over. Several stalls down, Imperialism, racing's other
Cinderella story, was calmly nibbling on hay. On the opposite side of the barn
was Todd Pletcher's 12-strong legion, including Derby starters Pollard's Vision and
Limehouse, and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) contender Ashado.
"The big dogs are on the
backside," Servis said, as he helped get Smarty Jones settled in.
"But I feel like I'm coming with a loaded gun. The way he charged off that
van, he knows something big is in store."
On the Saturday before the Derby, Smarty Jones went
out for his final work with jockey Willie Martinez up. By the time he was
finished, all of Churchill Downs knew that this was no ordinary horse. With Martinez motionless
throughout, Smarty Jones breezed five furlongs in :58 as if he were out for a
morning stroll. His feet barely touched the ground as he glided smoothly over
the Churchill strip. He was a powerhouse galloping out, and wasn't even blowing
coming off the track.
Meanwhile, trainer Bob Baffert,
who had withdrawn San Felipe (gr. II) winner Preachinatthebar from the Derby
after an unsatisfactory work, was now in danger of losing jockey Jerry Bailey,
who was to ride Baffert's main Derby hope, Wimbledon, winner of the Louisiana
Derby (gr. II). One more withdrawal and Bailey would jump back to Eddington,
who was next in line to get in the field based on graded earnings. But Baffert
had just seen something to make him forget his jockey woes. "All I know is
that after watching Smarty Jones work today, we're all in trouble,"
Baffert said. Nick Zito, trainer of Derby
starters The Cliff's Edge and Birdstone, had seen Smarty Jones gallop at
Keeneland earlier in the week, and all he could say was: "Whew! I can't
believe the way he attacks the ground."
After the work, Martinez, who has been a major part of the
Smarty Jones team, couldn't stop raving about the colt. "When you're
undefeated, you know you're the man," he said. "I've been riding for
16 years and I know the feeling when a horse's confidence level keeps rising
and rising. I don't think anyone really knows how good this horse is or how
good he's going to be. Right now, the Smarty Jones puzzle is coming together
and people are starting to see what this horse is all about. They look at his
pedigree and knock him, and he just keeps kicking butt. What else do they want
him to do?"
In his gallops following the
work, Smarty Jones literally dragged his 170-pound exercise rider, Pete Van
Trump, around the track like a rag doll. After two days of Van Trump having to
stand straight up in the irons, trying to rein in this rampaging bundle of
power and energy, Servis finally had to gallop alongside Smarty Jones on the
pony, keeping a firm hold of him. As he returned with the colt one morning, all
Servis said was, "Man, I wish the Derby
"I don't know how to
describe him, I really don't," Van Trump said. "There's just such an
adrenaline rush to be on something like that. He's so headstrong; all he wants
to do is train. No matter what we do we can't get him tired."
When entries were drawn, Servis
selected post 15, with the dangerous speed horse, Lion Heart, winding up in
post 3. That meant Smarty Jones would have to break sharply and contend with
two outside speed horses, Pollard's Vision and Quintons Gold Rush, while Lion
Heart was sure to take an easy lead into the clubhouse turn.
The morning before the Derby, Wimbledon scratched with a tendon injury and Santa Catalina (gr. II) winner St Averil was withdrawn
with sore feet. That meant Eddington and the lightly raced colossus, Rock Hard
Ten, missed getting into the Derby
by two days. They'll now try to catch up with Smarty Jones in the Preakness
The Chapmans arrived at the barn
later that morning and went over last-minute details with Servis. Their main
concern was getting Roy
to the winner's circle in his wheelchair. Roy,
as feisty as his colt, told Servis through sandpaper-lined vocal cords, "I
told them if he wins he is not going in that winner's circle until I get down
there. They called me back and said, 'We'll get you in. We don't know how but
we'll get you in.' The first time we spoke, the guy said, 'We're going to carry
you across.' I said, 'Let me tell you something; you ain't carrying me across
that damn track in front of 150,000 people.' "
Servis then jumped in: "Unless
they carry you on their shoulders. Just watch they don't dump any Gatorade on
you." Servis then had the Chapmans listen to a phone message he had
received from Cella, who told Servis, "I just want you to know I got the
other half (of the bonus money) covered, so go get the money, honey!"
Heavy rains Friday into Saturday
morning turned the track sloppy, but track superintendent Butch Lehr managed to
get it fast after several races. A little after 9 a.m. Lion Heart arrived by
van from Keeneland. Trainer Patrick Biancone had thrown down the gauntlet by
selecting post 3, letting everyone know his intentions. His instructions to
jockey Mike Smith were short and simple: "Come back with your silks
At 4 p.m. a severe thunderstorm
swept through Louisville,
quickly turning the track sloppy again. As the sheets of rain whipped through
Barn 42, flooding the entrance, both Servis and Mulhall welcomed the prospect
of a sloppy track. Smarty Jones and Imperialism never turned a hair as loud
claps of thunder rocked the barn.
Finally, the rain let up, and it
was time for the pieces of Derby
130 to come together. Smarty Jones went off as the 4-1 favorite, followed by
Lion Heart at 5-1, Tapit at 6-1, and The Cliff's Edge at 8-1. Up in their box,
Servis turned to Roy Chapman and said, "Chap, whatever happens, we've had
a great ride." Chapman couldn't agree more, and simply replied,
As expected, Lion Heart shot to
the lead. Smarty Jones had a clean break, but was caught in tight quarters
between Read the Footnotes and Pollard's Vision as they charged by the stands
the first time. Elliott was able to bull his way through and took up a
comfortable position just outside Pollard's Vision and Quintons Gold Rush as
they headed around the turn after a stiff opening quarter in :22.99. Lion Heart
continued to lead, easing two lengths clear of the battling threesome through a
half in :46.73 over a track that was a bit slick and sticky.
Behind them, the closers were
trying to get their footing, but no one was able to make any headway down the
backstretch. Quintons Gold Rush was the first to retreat, as Read the Footnotes
rolled past Minister Eric into fourth. As they hit the far turn, the
three-quarters in 1:11.80, Elliott had Smarty Jones in gear and he began cutting
into Lion Heart's lead.
Around the turn, The Cliff's Edge
was making a run from far back, while Imperialism was beginning to roll,
weaving his way between horses. Limehouse was improving his position along the
rail, outrunning Borrego to his outside. But Lion Heart was still going strong
as Smarty Jones moved in for the kill nearing the quarter pole.
The pair had opened a four-length
lead on Read the Footnotes, who was unable to sustain his move.
Turning for home, Smarty Jones,
who was racing on Lasix for the first time, had Lion Heart measured, as Elliott
shook the reins at him. Kent Desormeaux gave Imperialism a crack of the whip
left-handed at the five-sixteenths pole, and steered him sharply to the outside
where he likes to run. But he was too far back to make any impact on the two
colts slugging it out on the lead.
Elliott hit Smarty Jones twice
right-handed, then switched to two left-handed whips and two more right-handed.
By the sixteenth pole, Smarty Jones was clear of a gutsy Lion Heart and splashing
his way into history. He crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front, with Lion
Heart 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Imperialism, who in turn was two lengths clear of
Limehouse. The Cliff's Edge, who threw two shoes in the race, had little punch
in the stretch and had to settle for fifth. The time for the 1 1/4 miles was
Roy Chapman had to sit down and
take several deep breaths before embarking on the longest journey to the
winner's circle in Derby
history. But there was no way he was going to miss out on the moment of his
life. As the signal was given to bring in the horse, Servis quickly jumped in.
"No, leave the horse," he said. "This man needs to be in the
It was several minutes past 6:30
when Chapman finally was brought out from behind one of the hospitality tents
after being led through the tunnel to the infield. When the large entourage
waiting in the winner's circle saw him, they let out a roar, with many of them
raising single roses over their heads. As Chapman was wheeled in, they shouted,
"We want Chap. We want Chap."
Pat Chapman looked numb as she
made her way to the media pavilion. "Actually, I slept well last
night," she said. "I was a little nervous this morning, but I said,
'You know what? What's the worst that can happen?' We won't win, and I can
handle that. And then I calmed down."
While the Chapmans and Servis
were celebrating at the Kentucky Derby Museum,
Kristin Mulhall was getting ready to leave, having to catch an early flight
back to California
the following morning. Although she was feeling pride and elation, she wasn't
too eager to face Smarty Jones again in the Preakness. "I don't think we
can beat him going a mile and three-sixteenths," she said. "That
horse is a freak."
Smarty Jones showed no signs of
having just raced a mile and a quarter, as he kept digging into his hay rack
and butting it with such force it would fling back and hit him in the face. The
following morning, his feed tub, as usual, was licked clean.
Smarty Jones, his Kentucky Derby
odyssey over, now ships back home to Philly
Park, where Donnelly and
the crew wait to give him a hero's welcome. "I can't believe this is
happening," Donnelly said Sunday morning. "We're just little people
So ends the latest chapter in the
Smarty Jones fairy tale. No one knows where it will lead, and which hallowed
corridors of the heart and soul it will touch next. But it really doesn't
matter. It has already woven an unforgettable saga in the vast tapestry of the
Kentucky Derby and the Sport of Kings.