The following story first appeared in the April 28, 2007 issue of Blood-Horse magazine, with a few additions thrown in. This feature, about Team Smarty and what became of everyone, will kick off our “Smarty Jones Tribute Week,” in preparation for his departure for Uruguay next month. Each day we will reprint some of our favorite Smarty Jones stories and try to recapture one of the most extraordinary chapters in racing history. We reprinted our recaps of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 2009, so we will not include those (they can be found on the Hangin’ With Haskin blog archives, Dec. 13 and 15). All the stories reprinted this week also will be archived as soon as they are replaced by a new one. At the conclusion of this story we have provided a more recent update on the team members and Smarty himself.
The Candles Will Never Dim on Smarty Party
A cold, early April rain beat against the sheet-metal rooftop of Barn 11 on the Philadelphia Park backstretch. Inside, the shedrow was eerily empty for 8 a.m., normally a peak hour for activity. But on this morning, not a horse or person stirred. Then, a sole figure appeared around the corner of the shed, pushing a wheelbarrow. Groom Thelma Aguila, the only employee of trainer John Servis on duty, was making her morning feeding rounds.
This was a Wednesday, the “slow day” in Servis’ barn. After the horses walk, the barn shuts down, and the only sounds are the horses nickering for their breakfasts. Peering over the webbing in Stall 38, unaware of the hallowed ground on which she stood, was the 4-year-old filly Missile Warning. Three years ago, this was the home of one of the most exalted equine heroes Thoroughbred racing has ever known.
Yes, it’s been three years since those glorious, frenzied days when Smarty Jones ruled the racing universe and captured the hearts of a nation. And to the city of Philadelphia he was as revered as the fictional character of Rocky, to whom they erected statues. Who can forget those two magical Saturday mornings between the Derby and Preakness and Preakness and Belmont when approximately 5,000 and 9,000-- fans, respectively, jammed Philly Park just to watch Smarty gallop. People waited for hours, some arriving at 5 a.m., and then dashed through the doors to secure a spot by the rail, many with young children in tow or on their shoulders. The majority of kids were decked out in Smarty Jones t-shirts or caps. “Smartymania” had swept the country.
Now, Barn 11, although still adorned with two Smarty Jones banners, is once again just another barn on the Philly Park backstretch. Gone are the TV and radio station helicopters whirring overhead. Gone are the hordes of media that made the unlikely pilgrimage here during the Triple Crown. And gone are the police escorts and Pentagon-like security. Smarty still is the last horse to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and was scheduled to be the cover boy for Time magazine had he won the Belmont. He even was featured on A&E’s “Biography.”
For Servis, this is a time for rebuilding. His gaudy $8.9 million in earnings accumulated during Smarty Jones’ magical year in 2004 dwindled down to slightly more than $1 million in 2006. This year, through April 17, he has won nine races from 80 starts for earnings of $235,000, while splitting his stable between Philly Park and Oaklawn.
A major blow was losing his longtime client Rick Porter, who took with him eventual Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Round Pond and Triple Crown contender Hard Spun, whom Servis picked out as a yearling. But with the increase in purses in Pennsylvania, Servis has taken on several new and influential clients, and has a barnful of horses.
Servis hasn’t been the only member of the Smarty Jones team who has had to make major adjustments following Smarty’s premature retirement. Exercise rider Pete Van Trump, groom Mario Arriaga, and assistant trainer Maureen Donnelly are no longer with him. Only foreman and hotwalker Bill Foster, and exercise rider and assistant Bobby Velez remain.
Van Trump gallops a few horses in the morning for trainer Patricia Farro, and helps out his girlfriend, trainer Diane Day, doing chores around the barn. On most afternoons he heads up to jockey Stewart Elliott’s farm in Lambertville, N.J., and takes care of the 20-acre establishment while Elliott is away riding. Arriaga returned home and bought a coffee plantation in Guatemala with the money he earned from Smarty, and now rubs horses for trainer Ramon Preciado. Donnelly left Servis only a few weeks ago.
Foster became involved in a relationship and eventually lost all the money he made from Smarty, as well as the new truck he purchased from Smarty’s owner, Roy Chapman. He took a part-time security job in the recreation hall on the Philly Park backstretch, and last fall returned to Servis’ barn as manager. In December, he was run over by a horse in the shed and has since undergone knee surgery and physical therapy, while collecting workmen’s compensation.
Smarty’s co-owner, Pat Chapman, has been trying to keep busy following the death of her husband, Roy, in February 2006. She divides her time between Bucks County, Pa., and Boca Grande, Fla., where she is involved in community work. She also has three horses in training with Servis.
To many, it seems like only yesterday that the name Smarty Jones was on everyone’s lips, as hundreds of thousands of letters came pouring in to the Servises and the Chapmans. One person who became caught up in “Smarty Mania” was Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
“It was such a great story, for me personally and as a sports fan,” Rendell said. “I went to the Preakness and sat with the Chapmans. I’m a great football, baseball, and basketball fan, but when Smarty started blowing the field away, it was as thrilling a moment as I can remember in sports. The Belmont was an absolute zoo, and there were so many people from Philadelphia there. When they saw me in the stands, I stood up and led them in a cheer: ‘Gimme an S…gimme an M…gimme an A…’ It was crazy; people were going nuts.
“All I kept thinking was, ‘How are we going to have a parade for Smarty? You can’t put this valuable horse on a flatbed truck.’ The town was starved for a winner, and Smarty was our champion. I thought it was going to happen at the top of the stretch, but then it all began to unravel before our eyes. It was the saddest thing I can remember in sports. I was so depressed I couldn’t shake it off for weeks. But it was a great ride.”
Rendell credits Smarty Jones for playing a major role in the state getting slot machines. “As Smarty caught fire, and it hit home, he absolutely captured the imagination of the legislature,” he said. “All of a sudden horse racing was big in Pennsylvania, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Smarty got us the extra votes that we needed down the stretch, and that his tremendous run helped us pass the law.”
Servis is now hoping to reap those rewards, as he awaits the deluge of purse money that is expected this summer. He has put the Porter breakup behind him and is looking forward to training for new outfits, such as WinStar, Vinery, and Little Red Feather Racing, the syndicate that owned 2004 NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Singletary.
“I didn’t know much about John other than what I had seen from Smarty,” said Little Red Feather manager Billy Koch. “But he was recommended by one of my partners, Bob Brittingham (part-owner of Afleet Alex). I flew to Philly and met with John over breakfast, and I realized this guy is a true horseman. When I left the meeting I knew John was our guy.”
Servis still finds it hard to believe all that has happened since Smarty. “It took a while for it all to sink in,” he said. “It’s like the last three years have flown by. It just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.”
He recalls driving with Stewart Elliott shortly after Smarty’s retirement and telling him, “You know, Stew, what this horse has done for horse racing, people are going to be talking about Stewart Elliott long after you’re dead and gone, buddy.”
Soon, there likely will be another Servis, in addition to John and his brother Jason, training horses. Servis’ 16-year-old son Tyler began galloping horses at a farm in Lancaster, Pa., last summer after working a summer at Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., and now has joined his father part-time. “He really loves the horses,” Servis said. “He’s hooked.”
Servis admits he was disappointed when Pete, Mario, and Maureen left. “Smarty bought Maureen a house, he bought Pete a house and a pickup truck, and he bought Mario the coffee plantation,” he said. “They did real good, believe me. But when you’re working together with people seven days a week things can get tough.”
Pat Chapman cherishes the memories of Smarty, and was happy that Roy, who suffered from emphysema, was able to enjoy them while still in relatively good health. “It was such an incredible time,” she said. “It was like living a movie. My only regret was the negative press we received when we retired him. There was a great deal of misunderstanding, and I think we got a bad rap, because there was so much the media wasn’t aware of regarding the extent of his injury. My husband and I went through the letdown that everyone goes through who comes down after being on top of the mountain. But our letdown was a lot different, because we went down being crucified.
“Those things, however, don’t take away from all the great moments we had. And the timing was unbelievable, because my husband died less than two years later. We had bought a new house in Doylestown when we knew Chappy was approaching the end, and we needed to have him in a place that was easier to get around. We moved there in November 2005, and he only spent one month there. After we went to Florida for the winter, he went downhill rapidly.”
Pat said she has been keeping busy and is helping Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, in their quest to build a racing museum devoted to the top horses from the Maryland/Pennsylvania/Delaware region. “I’ll be so supportive of anything they want to do,” she said. “They’ve been so wonderful for horse racing.”
Foster, who is happy to be back working with the horses again, said he and Servis talk about Smarty all the time. “That will never happen again,” he said. “It was an unbelievable time. A lot has happened since. I met a lady and we had two horses together, one of whom is a pretty nice horse named Mr. Boxcar, who’s made over $60,000. But unfortunately, I ran out of money and haven’t made any from the horse. We race him under the name Smarty’s Gift Stable.
“I spent a lot of money and we made some investments. As it turned out, I couldn’t afford the payments on my truck anymore and lost that. I don’t want to make this into a sad story. I just lost my money and have had to start all over. That’s when I started working in the afternoons as a security guard in the rec hall. I was at John’s house for Easter, and he wasn’t happy, because he wasn’t winning a lot of races. John’s a good guy and we talked about all the success we had together. After Maureen left, he called me and asked me if I’d like to come back to the barn as manager.”
Foster had been laid up for a while after his accident, in which he was holding a horse that was being shod. The horse got spooked and stepped into the blacksmith’s tray of nails. That spooked him even more and he lunged forward, hitting Foster in the knee, knocking him to the ground. Foster suffered five bone chips and torn cartilage, which necessitated surgery. But that is all in the past. “I’m happy to be back with John,” he said. “This is where I belong.”
As for Van Trump, his split with Servis was not an amicable one. “I see John on the backstretch, but I don’t say anything to him,” he said. “Right now, I go up to Stu Elliott’s farm in the afternoons and do work for him while he’s away. He has no horses there, but there’s plenty to be done, like taking care of the yard and chopping firewood. In the mornings, after getting on a few horses, I help out my girlfriend, cleaning the stalls, hotwalking, and hauling her horses.”
Van Trump still has one remnant from the Smarty days that grabs people’s attention. “I have a Smarty Jones sticker on my truck, and people will look at it and say things like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know who you are,’ or ‘Look, there goes Smarty,’ ” he said.
Donnelly, who ran the barn at Philly Park in 2004 while Servis was at Oaklawn and Churchill Downs, tried to get used to life after Smarty, but admitted it wasn’t easy at first.
“It was tough getting back to reality, especially when the next day you’re running a horse for a $4,000 claiming tag,” she said. “But having all the horses in the barn kept you pretty busy. I worked for Jan and John Nerud through most of the ’80s, and as John would always say, ‘You’re gonna have good horses and you’re gonna have bad horses, but you always get that same feeling when you’re in the winner’s circle.’ All I know is that I was able to buy a house in Bensalem because of Smarty. He paid for my down payment.”
Smarty, of course, was retired to Three Chimneys Farm, where he greeted hundreds of visitors each week. Perhaps his most special guest was 9-year-old Patrick Monroe from Long Island. As an infant, Patrick suffered from water on the brain and had to have surgery to place tubing inside his body to move the water from his brain to his abdomen. When he was 4, the tube malfunctioned on Christmas Eve night and he awoke Christmas morning to the realization he was blind. Then, in late 2003, his father, a Long Island firefighter, passed away. Months later, Patrick discovered horses and began taking riding lessons at Pal-O-Mine Equestrian for kids with disabilities.
For the first time in his life Patrick had a sense of freedom. He had found euphoria on the back of a horse and eventually would win numerous ribbons for riding. Patrick had only one wish – to meet his favorite athlete, Smarty Jones. All he wanted to do was touch him. Through the Make-a-Wish Foundation and ESPN’s My Wish Series, Patrick was brought to Three Chimneys Farm to meet his hero. Wearing his Smarty Jones hat, he was taken to the horse by farm owner Robert Clay, and with a perpetual smile on his face proceeded to stroke Smarty along his withers, on his neck, and on the side of his head. He then was brought outside as Smarty was being turned out, so he could hear him galloping at full speed across his paddock. From the look on his face, he clearly could see the horse in his mind’s eye. Before leaving, Patrick was given a braided lock of Smarty’s mane, as well as other gifts. That lock of mane would be proudly displayed alongside his ribbons, a reminder of one of the most memorable days of his life.
That is just one example of the effect Smarty Jones had on people. No one, however, was affected by the horse more than those who worked with him every day and lived through that incredible eight-week fairy tale from the Arkansas Derby to the Belmont Stakes.
Although they came from different walks of life, and most have gone their separate ways, the group known as Team Smarty banded together for one brief, but magical, moment to become a part of something so special it transcended the Sport of Kings and carved its place in racing lore for all time.
This story (minus several additions) appeared in the Blood-Horse magazine four years ago. To update what we have been able to find out, John Servis is still training at Philly Park and is doing well enough to remain content, even though he has not had a major stakes horse since Smarty. He has become actively involved with the horsemen’s association and has a radio spot on KYW 1060 AM, where he expounds on the many virtues of slots in Pennsylvania. Bill Foster is now Servis’ nightwatchman and Bobby Velez works as Servis’ foreman, but no longer exercises horses. Pete Van Trump is still working with the horses trained by his girlfriend Diane Day, and Maureen Connelly reportedly has left the racetrack. Pat Chapman still divides her time between Florida and Doylestown, Pa. and also spends a good deal of time in Maryland. She still races a few horses. Stewart Elliott, like Servis, hasn’t had a major horse since Smarty, but did pass the 4,000-win mark, and is now up to 4,343 career wins through June 16.
Smarty Jones’ main contribution to Pennsylvania is being a major impetus in the state getting slots , as Gov. Rendell said, and his one-time home, Philadelphia Park, is now called Parx Racing at Philadelphia Park and is part of a new glittering complex that includes a state-of-the-art casino next door to the track. Sadly, there is no statue or reminder of any kind of the horse who put the racetrack on the map and enabled it to boost purses from the slots and draw many of the country’s top stars over the past few years, such as Morning Line, First Dude, Blind Luck, and Havre de Grace last year alone. Sculptor Jean Clagett had been commissioned by Philly Park to do a statue of Smarty, and did deliver the cold casting last September and the completed bronze in early December. But she said she has not heard a word back from Philly Park officials since, despite constant efforts to contact them. Our luck hasn’t been any better. After receiving payment, she has put the project behind her and gone on to other things. Only time will tell if Smarty’s much-deserved statue will ever be displayed at Philly Park.
As for Smarty himself, he was never really given a chance in Kentucky, despite siring multiple graded stakes winner Backtalk; graded stakes winner Rogue Romance, who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and considered a top Kentucky Derby contender before getting hurt; graded stakes winner and grade I-placed Gilded Gem; Federico Tesio winner and grade III Pegasus runner-up Concealed Identity; grade I Alcibiades runner-up Be Smart, as well as stakes winners in Japan and Puerto Rico. He was being bred to only 50 mares at Three Chimneys Farm when Pat Chapman pulled the plug and shipped him back home to Pennsylvania to stand at Ghost Ridge Farms near York, Pa., where he was bred to about 80 mares this year. Stallion manager Dan Suttle said “it’s been fun” working with Smarty. “He has a rock star attitude,” he added. “It’s like he knows what he did. People who come visit him love that he’s back in Pennsylvania and has come full circle. It’s going to be a bittersweet day next month when he leaves.”
Smarty is scheduled to depart next month for Uruguay, where he will be bred to approximately 100 mares before returning to Ghost Ridge in December. In Uruguay, he will take up residence at Haras Cuatro Piedras, owned by Claudia (Rosas) and Pablo Salomone, a young affable couple who have developed the farm into one of the finest breeding establishments in the country. The farm is located in the region of Progreso, about 30 minutes from the capital city of Montevideo. Having been to Haras Cuatro Piedras and treated to a wonderful dinner, a stallion show, and the warm hospitality of the Salomones, I have no doubt Smarty will be well taken care of. Other American-raced stallions who stand or have stood at Cuatro Piedras are Real Quiet, who stood one year there before returning to the U.S., where he died in a paddock accident at Penn Ridge Farm in Pennsylvania in 2010; Mane Minister, and Eyeofthetiger. Two other farms – Nahuel and Virginia – have also been instrumental in bringing Smarty to Uruguay and, along with Cuatro Piedras, will fill the vast majority of his book.
“We are really excited because of Smarty Jones,” Claudia Rosas said. “He is arriving in Uruguay on the 12th of July. This is an incredible opportunity for Uruguay to receive such a successful stallion for this season. He will breed approximately 100 mares. We will accommodate the horse at the farm and will take part in 50% (of his mares).
“To be prepared to receive important stallions like Smarty Jones we have constructed a new building to put up the stallions and we are just finishing a small hospital.
“Unfortunately, Real Quiet died last season in Pennsylvania, so we have only one crop that we will sell next year, but his foals are really marvelous.”
Tuesday: Smarty’s Preakness recap