A few weeks ago, prior to the Kentucky Derby, my son reminded me it was time for us to choose our favorites for the first race of the Triple Crown.
He began reading off the entrants from the newspaper article. When he got to the name Smarty Jones, I said, “That’s the one I want.”
I didn’t see the odds, didn’t know a thing about this horse, but I liked the sound of his name.
“I’m sticking with Smarty Jones,” I said again on Derby day.
At a time when our world is in turmoil, just one year after the movie Seabiscuit captivated us, another unknown, rather small chestnut Thoroughbred has broken through the gate ahead of the pack and given us plenty of reasons to cheer.
All eyes on him. In the Preakness pre-race commentary this past weekend, all eyes were on Smarty Jones.
Some said that even if the little horse had it in him, his rookie jockey, Stewart Elliot, might not be able to stand up to some of the more seasoned jockeys on impressive, well-built, impressively pedigreed horses.
“I’m sticking with Smarty Jones,” I said again.
A colorful story. His win was impressive, made even more so by his colorful story.
Pat and Roy “Chappie” Chapman went into the Thoroughbred business in 1986 after buying almost 100 acres in Chester County, Pa.
Their “Someday Farm” horses raced mostly at Philadelphia Park. Their 20 horses, including three brood mares, kept their trainer, Bob Camac, busy and winning.
When Camac was murdered, along with his wife, it appeared to be the end of Pat and Chappie’s horse racing days. Chappie’s emphysema was worsening, and the joy seemed to be gone.
They moved to a smaller farm, and began selling off their horses. In January 2002, they sent two yearlings south with instructions to a farm manager in Ocala, Fla., to seek buyers for both.
The unnamed yearling who would later be called Smarty Jones, (the childhood nickname of Pat’s mother) quickly proved his athleticism and speed.
Worth a bundle. By early 2003, Chappie was told he could get $250,000 for him, but he was also advised by the Florida farm manager that Smarty was a runner. Chappie decided to give the colt a try at the training track.
The colt finished the quarter mile several seconds ahead of the 26 seconds they were hoping for.
It was time to ship the horse north and put him in the hands of trainer John Servis. Less than a month into the training, the colt almost killed himself, smashing his head against the top of a starting gate, requiring three weeks of hospitalization.
Servis then began breaking Smarty’s bad habit of tossing his head back while galloping, and he began trying to teach him patience by taking him on long, slow gallops.
He’s been winning ever since.
He is now in line for the Triple Crown, and if he can run well in the Belmont, he would be the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years.
I’m sticking with Smarty Jones.
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