In the new millennium few horses have captured the attention of racing fans like Smarty Jones. A Pennsylvania-bred colt from the award-wining bloodline of Mr. Prospector, Smarty Jones was named after the mother of co-owner Pat Chapman. The two shared a birthday but also a propensity for being a bit on the feisty side. Since Chapman’s mother had often been referred to as “Smarty Jones” in her youth, the name was perfect for the strapping colt.
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Smarty Jones was thrust into the midst of tragedy and controversy early in life. Originally trained by Bobby Carmac, the horse was sent to Florida-based trainer John Servis after Carmac was murdered by his own stepson. The Chapmans were reeled by the events and disbanded their entire breeding business, keeping only Smarty Jones and one other horse. Little did they know that they had made a very wise choice.
It wasn’t an easy road, however. In July of 2003 when the colt was just two, Servis sent him to the track for something known as gate schooling. This exercise is designed to teach horses how to load in the starting gate and behave as they await the beginning of a race. The young colt became spooked and reared up, hitting his head on the top of the gate. Smarty Jones collapsed into unconsciousness and it was later determined that he had fractured his skull. Such an injury is usually life-threatening to a horse, but the spunky horse somehow recovered.
It wasn’t until late November that Smarty Jones made his racing debut in a maiden event at the small Philadelphia Park, now known as Parx Racing and Casino. Smarty Jones easily won the six-furlong contest by more than seven lengths and a few weeks later notched another win in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes by a whopping 15 lengths. The horse had established speed figures that were far and above any two-year-old from recent memory, and it was clear to the Chapmans and Servis that they might have a Triple Crown hopeful in their barn. Jockey Stewart Elliot, a winner of more than 3000 races in his career, was given their reins in preparation for Smarty Jones’ three-year-old campaign.
In 2004 the horse and his team of connections made the short trip to New York to compete in the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct where Smarty Jones won with ease over a field of other hopefuls. After this race he was sent south to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Smarty Jones remained on the southern circuit, winning the prestigious Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and Arkansas Derby. All of these races are important steps on the road to the Triple Crown, and winning them made Smarty Jones a solid favorite heading into the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2004.
The day dawned rainy and remained that way until post time. If there were any concerns about whether or not Smarty Jones could handle the wet surface, they soon vanished. Both horse and jockey were making their Kentucky Derby debut and won the race by 2 ¾ lengths to make Smarty Jones the first unbeaten horse to win the Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977. Nyquist repeated the feat in 2016.
Following the Kentucky Derby, Smarty Jones advanced to the Preakness and won the second jewel of the Triple Crown by a record 11 ½ lengths. All eyes were on the colt as he returned to New York to make his run at history in the Belmont Stakes. Once again, however, the Test of the Champion proved to be an Achilles’ Heel for a Triple Crown contender. Sent to the lead early by jockey Elliot, Smarty Jones was run down in the stretch by the longshot Birdstone. Fans were so upset that the longshot had spoiled Smarty Jones’ quest for a Triple Crown that they pelted owner Marylou Whitney with beer cups on her way to the Winner’s Circle. It was his only defeat, but Smarty Jones never raced again.
Smarty Jones retired with more than $7 million in earnings and was sent to stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky where he occupied the same stall once used by Seattle Slew. Smarty Jones now stands at Calumet Farm and commands a modest stud fee.
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