- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004


How disappointed was everyone that Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes yesterday and with it a chance to win horse racing’s Triple Crown?

The jockey on Birdstone, who crossed the finish line first, apologized for winning.

“I am very sorry I had to do this,” Edgar Prado said.

He’s not the only one.

A record $15 million was bet on Smarty Jones to win at Belmont Park. And he came in second.

The crowd booed the Whitneys, owners of Birdstone, during the postrace interview.

“We’re starving for a Triple Crown winner, and everyone thought this was the one,” said John Servis, Smarty Jones’ trainer.

Someone asked Servis, on a scale of 1 to 10, how disappointed he was his horse came up short. He blurted, “564.”

That was an understatement for the postrace mood at Belmont Park.

“It’s sad because Smarty is great for racing,” Nick Zito said. And he trained the winning horse, for crying out loud.

It’s getting embarrassing. Ten horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to lose the Belmont Stakes, since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978. People are going to start dismissing all the hoopla if another horse wins the first two legs, particularly after getting all pumped up with Funny Cide last year and Smarty Jones this year.

Next time it may be a case of “wake us up when the horse wins the Triple Crown. Then we’ll pay attention.”

“Smarty will always be one of the most famous horses,” said Zito, still apologizing for ruining the party.

Yeah. He will take his place alongside Funny Cide, War Emblem, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Pleasant Colony and Spectacular Bid — all the other horses that didn’t win the Triple Crown in the past 26 years. Household names every one of them.

“We really love Smarty, and I think that Smarty Jones has done so much for racing and the racing community,” Birdstone owner Marylou Whitney said. “It gives everyone a chance to think, ‘It can happen to me.’”

I don’t think it can happen to me. Then again, I haven’t cashed a winning ticket since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown, even when my money was riding on a horse that is a 1-5 favorite to win. Those were the odds on Smarty when he left the gate yesterday. He was such an overwhelming favorite that you had to bet $5 to win $1.

But stepping back from the disappointment of yet another year of Triple Crown teasing, what Smarty did achieve — winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and $7.5million in the process — is remarkable. What would have been the odds on this horse winning any race, let alone the Derby and Preakness, if they had been made 11 months ago, when blood was gushing from his head and his eye was nearly out of his skull after a training accident?

Long shot would not have come close to handicapping his chances.

And what if you were in the operating room at the New Jersey Equine Clinic last July and were asked to lay odds on Smarty Jones’ chance to be on the brink of winning the Triple Crown as he was undergoing emergency surgery to save his life?

You would have given better odds on William Hung winning a Grammy.

To measure what Smarty accomplished, you have to go back to that fateful day at Philadelphia Park, when he smashed his head against an iron bar in a starting gate and crushed his skull.

That’s the starting point to determine the odds on what Smarty Jones did — from the moment Servis thought he was dead to the moments Servis stood in the winner’s circle for the Derby and Preakness.

It’s difficult to keep the proper perspective after a loss, but Servis did his best to remind everyone of how far his horse had come — further than any other horse who stepped on a track in any of the Triple Crown races this year.

“We got our championship when we won the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “For us, that was like climbing Mount Everest. To win the Triple Crown, that would have been like climbing Mount Everest three times.”

This horse came back from the dead to scale it twice. That’s pretty impressive. Three times, though, would have been immortal. That’s what people remember.

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