Wednesday, June 2, 2004

To claim the Triple Crown, Smarty Jones must endure the longest dirt stakes of the year — and outrun his lineage.

The Belmont, which will be run for the 136th time Saturday, requires stamina rarely needed in U.S. racing. While American bloodlines are mostly designed for speed — Smarty Jones is the son of a sprinter and a turf runner — the Belmont’s 1 miles are a throwback to the sport’s British roots.

But the small chestnut appears to be somewhat of a genetic freak. Even trainer John Servis admitted there’s something physically different, something only an autopsy will reveal. Maybe he has an enlarged heart like his ancestor, 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat. Perhaps it’s just simple aggressiveness.

“They’re going to find something very unusual about this horse,” Servis said. “And whether he has a huge heart or huge vascular channels, I don’t know. There’s something that makes this horse as special as he is. And physically, to the naked eye, you could see where he’s a gorgeous horse and he’s got everything in the right place. But to be at the quality that he is, I really think that there’s probably something very special about him.”

Smarty Jones certainly didn’t get any stamina from his parents. Smarty Jones’ stallion was Elusive Quality, a respectable runner who has proved an even better stud. Elusive Quality won nine of 20 races for $413,284. His biggest victory came on grass in 1998, when he set a Belmont Park record over one mile in the Poker Stakes. Smarty Jones’ dam, I’ll Get Along, won 12 of 39 races for $276,969, concentrating on shorter races.

Instead, the greatness of Smarty Jones likely lies two to four generations back. The colt’s eight victories over eight different distances reflect great diversity in his gene pool.

Smarty Jones’ maternal line includes great, great grandsire Foolish Pleasure, who won the 1975 Kentucky Derby. His maternal grandsire was champion sprinter Smile.

The paternal line is more prominent. Secretariat, along with 1964 Derby winner Northern Dancer and English Derby champion Sir Ivor, are four generations back. Great, great grandsire Mr. Prospector has four Derby champions among his close offspring. Grandsire Gone West was a solid stakes winner whose Commendable won the 2000 Belmont.

That, and the horse’s success, means Kentucky breeders are readying bids for Smarty Jones. While owners Roy and Patricia Chapman are considering whether to race the colt again next year, a Triple Crown would force the colt to the breeding shed next spring. The insurance needed to race next year probably would cost more than his on-track earnings. Along with syndication offers of at least $30 million, a Triple Crown would make Smarty Jones a long shot to race beyond the Breeders’ Cup on Oct. 30.

Meanwhile, I’ll Get Along is once again in foal to Elusive Quality. Whether a Smarty Jones sibling can take the 2008 Triple Crown is uncertain, though. Just because they’re full-siblings doesn’t mean they’re any more alike than two human siblings.

“The combination of genes is sort of infinite,” David Williamson, a Kentucky breeder who oversees Elusive Quality, told the Associated Press. “You only have to look at full brothers and sisters in a family. There are totally different characteristics and temperament and everything. It’s the same in the horse business.”

Notes — Jockey Patrick Valenzuela won’t ride Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont after a Los Angeles judge yesterday denied the rider’s request to delay a month-long suspension. Valenzuela immediately will finish the final month of his four-month ban for failing to report a drug test to California officials. Jockey Alex Solis may get the mount when post positions are drawn today. … Smarty Jones will van from Philadelphia Park to Belmont today with a police escort.

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