- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 5, 2004

ELMONT, N.Y. — What if Smarty Jones doesn’t win today’s Belmont Stakes?

What a drag that would be.

“Everyone has adopted him as their horse,” his trainer, John Servis, told reporters. “It’s a feel-good story. There are so many bad things happening in the world. When people see the front page of newspapers, they read about bad things and then they read a nice feel-good story about a little red horse from Philadelphia.”

And if he doesn’t win, what would sports talk radio sound like in Philadelphia on Monday?

“That horse is a choker, no guts,” Frankie from Narberth will say. “Let’s trade him for Mr.Ed.”

There is so much goodwill riding on this horse, the fallout if he loses today could result in a nationwide depression so deep that not even a good season finale of “The Sopranos” tomorrow night will cure it when people go to work Monday.

Or maybe by then everyone will have forgotten about it, and horse racing will go back into the stable and out of sight, where it usually resides save for these few weeks every year when people flirt with becoming “Guys and Dolls.”

After all, most of the people who are talking around the water cooler about Smarty Jones don’t remember War Emblem, or Charismatic, or Real Quiet, or Silver Charm, or the other five horses who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to lose the Belmont Stakes. Affirmed was the last horse to win racing’s Triple Crown, in 1978.

Ask the average fan who professes to have Smarty Jones fever what the name of the horse was who won the Derby and the Preakness last year, and some might say Seabiscuit. Few will remember it was Funny Cide.

Remember Funny Cide? He was last year’s flavor of the month. He scored an upset win in the Derby. (Remember the controversy when there were false reports that his jockey had an illegal device in his hand that helped him push the horse to win? For more information, see Jose Santos, publisher, Miami Herald.)

Then Funny Cide won the Preakness, and everyone was talking Triple Crown and a horse racing revival until he got beat by Empire Maker in the Belmont, coming in third.

“I feel bad for all the people who came out,” said Funny Cide’s trainer, Barclay Tagg, after the race. “I don’t know if it was the extra quarter-mile. He looks all right. I can’t talk to him. We were beaten by a good horse. I don’t know what else to say. I am being honest. It is horse racing.”

Now, Smarty Jones is no Funny Cide, in more ways than the fact that Funny Cide had been gelded. Funny Cide was seen as a horse who had the good fortune of having at least an equally good horse, if not better, develop a sore foot in the Derby and not running in the Preakness. But Empire Maker was healthy and laying for Funny Cide in the Belmont Stakes and ruined the party.

Smarty Jones is seen as a very good horse — maybe even a great one, undefeated in eight races. He won the Preakness by a record 111/2 lengths, and has drawn nothing but praise and admiration from other jockeys who normally would not offer such platitudes for a competing horse.

And there is no Empire Maker laying for him today. The horses who may give him a run, Rock Hard Ten and Purge, are not in that class.

There is no good reason why Smarty Jones can’t win the Triple Crown today. If it rains, he won the Derby on a sloppy track. “My horse is good and loves to run on pretty much anything,” Servis said.

But, like Barclay Tagg said, it is horse racing. Stuff happens. Like Spectacular Bid stepping on a safety pin before the Belmont. Or War Emblem stumbling out of the starting gate and finishing eighth. Both were denied the Triple Crown.

Not this horse. He didn’t get this far — with a crushed skull from a training accident, the death of his first trainer and a jockey who has battled alcoholism — to lose. Smarty Jones will take his place today with Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and eight other horses who have won the Triple Crown.

Or else he will be on the trading block for Trigger.

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