Smarty Jones winning the 2004 Kentucky Derby. (Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com)
In 2004, Smarty Mania took over the country when a chestnut colt named Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track and then made a run at the Triple Crown. But the fairy tale almost didn’t happen.
In July 2003, “Smarty” was schooling in the starting gate for trainer John Servis when he spooked and reared, fracturing his skull on the top of the gate. After more than a month of rehabilitation, he returned to training and won his first two starts by a combined margin of 22 ¾ lengths that November for owner-breeder Someday Farm, the operation of Pat and Roy Chapman.
Smarty Jones rolled through his first six starts with only eventual stakes winner Two Down Automatic getting within a length of the colt during his road to the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones went almost perfect in every way during his road to the Derby with the only snare coming from bettors sending him off at 7-to-2 odds in the Rebel Stakes. It was the first time in his career that Smarty Jones wasn’t the favorite and only the second time he went off at more than even-money. He defeated 2-1 favorite Purge by 3 ¼ lengths in the Rebel.
Smarty Jones swept the Oaklawn Park preps, capped by the Arkansas Derby, that year before heading to the Kentucky Derby as the favorite. After stalking Lion Heart for most of the race, Smarty Jones took control in the stretch to win by 2 ¾ easy lengths and extend his winning streak to seven races.
SMARTY JONES WINNING DERBY
The win also came with a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for winning the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby, and Kentucky Derby.
After spending mornings exercising in front of thousands of fans, Smarty Jones was ready to roll in the Preakness Stakes. In nearly the same early situation as the Derby, Smarty Jones again tracked Lion Heart for most of the race before pouncing on the turn. The Preakness win would be one of his best, as he drew away to win by 11 ½ lengths, his second-largest margin of victory ever.
SMARTY JONES WINNING PREAKNESS
But Smarty Jones had everything going against him in the Belmont Stakes when he went for the Triple Crown. After being pushed for most of the race by two other horses, he finally shook them off and looked like he was in the clear. The Triple Crown looked to be in his grasp as he barreled toward the finish line, but it wasn’t meant to be. Birdstone stormed past him in the final moments of the race, crushing the hopes of another Triple Crown hopeful. The Triple Crown was lost by one length, with the third-place finisher eight lengths behind the two.
After running seven races in six months, Smarty Jones was given a well-deserved break. But when Servis brought the colt back, he noticed that something wasn’t right. The colt underwent a veterinary examination and it was found that he had chronic bruising in all four fetlocks (ankles). While he could come back with a few months rest, economically it wasn’t a feasible option.
"There's no hiding that economic decisions played a factor," Robert Clay, owner of Three Chimneys Farm where Smarty Jones was going to stand at stud, said after the retirement. "The horse needs a minimum of three months rest. Then there’s the option of whether to race at four or not.”
If Smarty Jones didn’t come back the same or was injured the following year, a season at stud would have gone to waste, which was not something the colt’s connections were willing to risk. Smarty Jones retired with a near-perfect record of eight wins in nine starts for more than $7.6 million in earnings to put him 11th on the list of North American-raced earners as of April 17, 2013.
At the end of the year, Smarty Jones was also named champion 3-year-old male.
Smarty Jones stood for $100,000 in his first year at Three Chimneys with a limited book of 110 mares. Soon Three Chimneys also had to think about limiting the amount of fans that came to see him with more than 800 coming in his first three weeks at the farm.
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com
“At this rate, we will far surpass our early estimates that Smarty Jones might have 15,000 visitors a year, as the interest in seeing him has, if anything, increased as the days go by,” Dan Rosenberg, then the president Three Chimneys, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Smarty Jones had 85 foals in his first crop. Expectations were high for the stallion and he proved to have potential with 50 winners in his first crop, including five stakes winners and four stakes-placed runners. Smarty proved to be a useful stallion but as the years went on, most of his mares came from the mid-Atlantic region. He left Kentucky for his home state of Pennsylvania after the 2010 breeding season with 89 winners from 137 starters.
The stallion moved for the 2011 season to Ghost Ridge Farm, where he was closer to part-owner Pat Chapman, a resident of the state. Even though the stallion had been retired from racing for six years, the fans who came to watch him at the track also followed him to his new home.
“When we first brought him back to Pennsylvania [to stand] at another farm, we had a ‘Welcome Home Smarty’ day and we had 3,500 people show up,” said Carl McEntree, director of bloodstock services at Northview Stallion Station. “Still to this day, we talk with fans on a bi-weekly basis, his Facebook page has more friends than I could ever wish for, and last year we had an open day before he left for Uruguay and again 200-300 people showed up at a time.”
In his two years in Pennsylvania, breeders have also flocked to the stallion, with about 60 mares coming to him both years. Smarty Jones also experienced a new first in his move to Pennsylvania when he shuttled to Uruguay. It was the first time the stallion had ever shuttled and he repeated the journey in 2012.
Smarty Jones’ impact on the Pennsylvania racing industry hasn’t only been seen on the track and in the breeding shed, he played a big roll in getting a gaming bill passed in the state.
“He has been Pennsylvania’s prodigal son,” McEntree said. “It was thanks to him and Gov. Rendell that we had the expanded gaming bill passed through, so he sort of carried that bill through legislation.”
In a fitting end to the fairy tale of Smarty Mania, the stallion has come full circle. Bred and based in Pennsylvania, he has returned home to help the industry that stood behind him. While he is only in his third season in the state, Smarty already has done more than most horses do in a lifetime.
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com