Jun '04[Home]


Get Smarty

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Veteran jockeys Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis threw the Belmont. Each one knowingly and with aforethought guided their mounts to spectacular losses. They should be shamed and disciplined. They are jealous, petty and selfish in this time when our country is looking for heroes.
(D. Whitehead, Escondido, Calif.)

Bailey aboard Eddington and Solis with Rock Hard Ten pressed the favorite on either flank to about the 5/8 pole before Eddington wore down, fourth at the 1-1/2 mile finish. Rock Hard Ten stayed within a length of Smarty for a mile in 1:35 2/5, which included a 23.11 third quarter. In the stretch, his massive shoulders seemed to overburden his legs and he finished fifth of nine.

By post time, eleven horses, including my choices, The Cliff's Edge, Friends Lake (an eye-popping performance in the Florida Derby), and Read the Footnotes, had dropped out. Jay Leno invited the horse to appear on the Tonight Show; George W. invited him to the White House rose garden. The human interest stories about his connections made the sentimental Sea Biscuit look like film noir. I regarded Smarty's dog-track wins in Pennsylvania as evidence of a claims racer avoiding top-flight opposition.

At the 1986 Belmont, I put a week's salary on Danzig Connection at about 7-1. Trusting my advice, "Never underestimate a small horse," my sister put two. In fact, I was betting on veteran trainer Woody Stephens, frustrated in the Spring races, to make it five in a row at the distance that separates heart from guts. Ferdinand had won the Derby (2:02 4/5) and Snow Chief the Preakness (1:54 4/5), so no hero would be anointed. Danzig Connection's time was 2:29 4/5 over a sloppy track. Ferdinand was third.

I bet on Woody again in the Travers at Saratoga in 1988. After losing the Derby by a neck to the filly Winning Colors trained by rival Wayne Lukas, he'd sent Forty-Niner out after her in the Preakness, saying, "I don't care if I finish last as long as she finishes next to last." She finished third and he seventh to Risen Star (who also won the Belmont—by 15 lengths with a time of 2:26 2/5). Stephens had never won the Travers, so I figured he'd be ruthless. Forty-Niner came in.

We were back at Belmont in 1989, surrounded on all sides by those who had bought the hype on Sunday Silence, black upset winner of the Derby and the Preakness (by a nose) over Easy Goer. We bet the big chestnut and after a thrilling duel down the stretch, he pulled it out and away by eight lengths. Dagger eyes greeted our solitary jubilation. Later that summer, we saluted him at the Travers, another win.

A win in the Derby is a triumph in the sport of kings. A win in the Belmont is a slam-down in a sweaty contest of knaves. Early in his career, the famously eccentric Whirlaway bared his teeth and bit a midetch rival, thereby convincing his prospective buyer that he had the right stuff. At the 1941 Belmont, his jockey coasted along in a field of just four to the half-mile pole, and then said, "The hell with this, fellas. I'm leavin'," and shot to the Triple Crown, then the Travers.

Affirmed in 1978, Seattle Slew in 1977, Secretariat in 1973, Citation in…1948. A twenty-five year gap to greatness. It took the great Citation forty-five races to earn a million dollars—as a six-year-old. Smarty has earned $7,613,155 for ten. Now it will be a twenty-seven-year gap. At least. Six times in the last eight years, horses have come to the Belmont with a chance to make it three for three.

Secretariat ran 21 races. He won 17, was second in two, and third in one. The only time he was fourth was in his very first race, a 5-1/2 furlong sprint at Aqueduct, where he was bumped hard from both sides coming out of the gate and nearly went down.

At 1:59 2/5, Secretariat broke Northern Dancer's record in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, the first time its 1-1/4 mile had been run in under 2 minutes. (Smarty's time: 2:04.) What's more impressive is that he did not tire, but rather, actually gained speed with each quarter, covering the last in 23 seconds flat. He broke the record at Pimlico in the 1-3/16 Preakness with a time of 1:53 2/5. (Smarty's time: 1:56.) At 2:24, he ran the Belmont's 1-1/2 mile faster than the track record by 02-3/5, faster than any time ever recorded at that distance anywhere in the country—thirty-one lengths ahead of his nearest competitor—and did it under a hand ride.

Affirmed's time in 1978 was 2:26 4/5, pressed stride for stride by rival Alydar. Citation's time was 2:28 1/5 in 1948, tying Count Fleet's 25-length win in 1943 which broke War Admiral's 1937 record of 2:28 3/5. By this measure, Birdstone, this year's upset, did quite well at 2:27 2/5. The final quarter when he passed Smarty timed out at 27. "That other horse just come up and got us," his dazed jockey told a reporter. So don't tell me the Philly Steak could have run it in 23, 24, 25.

Owner Marylou Whitney apologized that her 36-1 long shot had denied a record crowd of 120,139 (and bettors of $14,461,402) their twelfth Triple Crown hero (at 35 cents on the dollar). "I'm sorry that Smarty Jones didn't win," she said. "We kept telling [our jockey] Edgar Prado, 'Be second'." Prado added, "We are really looking for a champion." Huh?

Secretariat wasn't sent out to stud after his triple crowning, but instead ran six more races, including a return to the Belmont track for the Man 'O War Stakes in October where he won, covering the same 1-1/2 mile distance—this time on grass—in less than 2:25 and for the 1-1/8 mile Marlboro Cup where he set a new record, defeating Riva Ridge, the prior year's Derby winner, in 1:45 2/5. (Conversely, Seattle Slew ('77) defeated Affirmed ('78) twice before the year was out.) The distance of his last race, a winning run in Canada, was 1-5/8. Come on now! Any much farther and he's The Black running Bedouin marathons through the deserts of Arabia.

Too harsh, you say, to measure Smarty against Secretariat or wish W were Washington? Fine. Then, how would he do against other modern-day Derby and Preakness-winners bested at Belmont? The horse, I mean.

2003: Funny Cide (3rd, 5 lengths, Empire Maker).
2002: War Emblem (8th, 19-1/2 lengths, Sarava).
1999: Charismatic (3rd, 1-1/2 lengths, Lemon Drop Kid).
1998: Real Quiet (2nd, nose, Victory Gallop).
1997: Silver Charm (2nd, 3/4 length, Touch Gold).
1989: Sunday Silence (2nd, 8 lengths, Easy Goer).
1987: Alysheba (4th, 14-1/4 lengths, Bet Twice).
1981: Pleasant Colony (3rd, 1-1/2 lengths, Summing).
1979: Spectacular Bid (3rd, 3-1/4 lengths, Coastal).

Said trainer Servis, "Hopefully, we'll get to race him next year and he will do some great things and be known, like Spectacular Bid, as one of the great horses who didn't win the Triple Crown." Oh, like that great Boston team who didn't win the World Series? Officially, no decision has been made about whether Smarty will race as a 4-year-old. His owners say the high cost of insurance could lead to his retirement at the end of this season.

That season had better include the Travers at Saratoga in August. Birdstone will be there. Sis and I, too, and we don't need another hero.


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