- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Smarty Jones, whose attempt at the Triple Crown electrified horse racing, was retired yesterday because of an injury that could have been resolved with rest.

Chronic bruising in the cannon bone of all four legs is a common setback. Dr. Larry Bramlage, who examined the horse, said 90 percent of horses resume training after 90 days. However, the owners didn’t want to risk losing a lucrative breeding season if the colt wasn’t assured of racing.

“There’s no hiding behind the fact that economics plays into any decision,” said Robert Clay, owner of Three Chimneys Farm, where Smarty Jones will become a stallion. “[But] are we going to overuse this horse, abuse this horse and see if he can get back to the races the middle of next year?”

The 3-year-old colt will be shipped to Three Chimneys in Midway, Ky., in coming weeks following retirement ceremonies at Philadelphia Park. A half-interest in the Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes winner — he finished second in the Belmont Stakes on June 5 — recently was sold for more than $45 million.

Smarty Jones suffered a bruised left hoof training last month. Trainer John Servis canceled plans for two races but hoped to bring the horse to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 30. However, nuclear scans showed persistent deep bone bruising that would have delayed his return further.

“If it were any other horse, you’d turn him out and bring him back to the track in late October and start building back up his conditioning,” Servis said. “But this is Smarty Jones. I don’t see any way he can earn on the racetrack in a year what he can earn next spring in the breeding shed. And then you have the emotional trauma if anything should happen to him. I can’t blame the [owners] for retiring him.”

Owners Pat and Roy Chapman bitterly denied cashing out instead of racing Smarty Jones next year as planned.

“There’s a little more to it than taking the money and run,” Pat Chapman said. “If we were going to do that we would have done it before the Kentucky Derby.”

Smarty Jones won eight of nine career starts, losing the Belmont by one length after leading in the stretch. The colt earned $7,613,155, fourth most in racing history. A Belmont victory would have made Smarty Jones’ racing’s leading career earner at $11.3 million.

Smarty Jones was racing’s biggest draw in nearly a quarter-century. The Preakness and Belmont both shattered attendance marks, while TV ratings were the highest since the early 1980s. The colt’s story — his first trainer was murdered, and he almost never raced after suffering a fractured skull in a starting gate mishap — lured new fans to the sport. Smarty Jones drew thousands to morning workouts, had a police escort from Philadelphia to New York for the Belmont and received thousands of letters from fans. There were three songs about the colt, and breeders named dozens of horses some version of Smarty. One company even offered to design a Smarty Jones fishing lure.

“The sport needs stars,” Maryland breeder Mike Pons said, “but they’re like meteorites streaking across the sky.”

The early retirement will create a debate over Smarty Jones’ standing among racing’s legends. Ultimately, he was simply a double-crown winner who won the Preakness by a record 111/2 lengths.

“There have been a lot of horses who have two thirds of the Triple Crown and went on to ratify extreme greatness like Native Dancer, Nashua and Spectacular Bid,” Derby historian Ed Bowen said. “But it’s a sad reality in how you’re judged when you win two-thirds of it and don’t do anything else. My guess is he would be remembered in that echelon of horses that could have but didn’t quite [reach greatness].”

Servis said Smarty Jones would have validated his early success had he returned next season.

“There are some skeptics out there, but if he had been able to get back to the races they wouldn’t have been skeptics long,” Servis said.

Perhaps Smarty Jones can prove his greatness in the breeding shed. He will occupy the stall of the late 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew.

“I think the move he made in the Preakness was just a preview of things to come,” Servis said. “Smarty Jones has responded to every challenge in his life with enthusiasm, talent and every fiber of his being. I think he’ll make a great stallion.”

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