LOVERRO: Triple Crown should have been Smarty Jones’ to wear

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If California Chrome is successful and wins Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 will be celebrated for accomplishing that long-awaited goal.

SEE ALSO: Belmont Stakes draw: California Chrome 3-5 favorite

There will be a sense of relief that finally, after a dozen failed attempts with horses winning the first two legs of horse racing’s most treasured prize, the question of whether or not a horse will ever win the Triple Crown again will be silenced.

California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, will go into the record books as the 12th Triple Crown winner in American racing, taking his place among great horses like Secretariat, Citation and War Admiral.

But he will not be beloved. He may wind up being the Triple Crown winner, but he was not the horse who should have been the next winner of horse racing’s highest trifecta.

Smarty Jones horse racing fans applaud as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner returns to Philadelphia Park Racetrack, in Bensalem Pa., Sunday, June 6, 2004, after finishing second in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.  (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

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Smarty Jones horse racing fans applaud as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness ... more >

No, the horse who was right — and ripe — to be America’s next Triple Crown winner won at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, but came up just short at Belmont Park 10 years ago.

California Chrome will be honored. But Smarty Jones was loved.

This horse should have been the one who finally broke the Triple Crown drought. Smarty Jones was right out of central casting. Not only would Disney have done a horse movie about him by now if he had won the Triple Crown, we might be looking at Smarty Jones II or III by now — the horse version of the “Rocky” franchise.

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They talked of holding a parade for him down Broad Street in his hometown of Philadelphia. The governor of Pennsylvania invited Smarty Jones to the state capitol. An army of photographers recorded his every move, and reporters fell over themselves to pick and choose any of the stories that surrounded the beloved horse.

Smarty Jones had nearly killed himself in a track accident the year before he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, smashing his head against an iron bar and fracturing his skull. He was so ugly after the accident that he was nicknamed “Quasimodo,” with a swollen head and eyes falling out of their sockets.

It was a beast that turned into a beauty.

His first trainer, Bobby Comac, was murdered along with his wife in their New Jersey home by their son, reportedly in a dispute over money. So his good friend  John Servis, a small-town trainer out of Charles Town, West Virginia, took over training the horse and suddenly found himself beating out legends like Nick Zito and Bob Baffert.

The jockey, Stewart Elliott, had battled alcoholism and never raced in the Triple Crown series before, becoming the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby on his first try since Ron Franklin rode Spectacular Bid in 1979.

The owner, Roy Chapman, suffered from emphysema and had to be wheeled into press conferences with an oxygen tank.

This was the horse who should have won the Triple Crown.

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