- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

ELMONT, N.Y. — Smarty Jones’ loss in the Belmont Stakes might keep the colt on the track and out of early retirement.

Smarty Jones entered the stretch with a two-length lead Saturday and appeared to be on the verge of ending racing’s 26-year Triple Crown drought. Top rival Rock Hard Ten was faltering, and Smarty Jones is a renowned stretch runner.

But this time the horse who had accelerated to the finish to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes was obviously tired. He was caught by Birdstone in the final sixteenth of a mile and finished second.

Had he won, Smarty Jones likely would have been retired immediately. Industry sources said a Triple Crown championship would have made insurance too costly for the colt to continue racing. Purses wouldn’t cover the premiums. At best, Smarty Jones would have raced two or three times and retired after the Breeders’ Cup on Oct.30.

Owners Patricia and Roy Chapman next week will visit four Kentucky breeding farms that are bidding for the colt. The Chapmans will sell only to a U.S. breeder, and the buyer must agree to provide public access to Smarty Jones.

The loss in the Belmont likely cost the Chapmans at least $10million of a potential $40million stallion syndication deal.

However, the reduced costs of insurance will allow the owners to race Smarty Jones into 2005, if they so choose.

He still might retire at year’s end, but at least the Chapmans now have options.

“Our plan right now, as long as he’s healthy, is to run him next year,” trainer John Servis said. “They’d like to keep racing him for the people.”

A rematch with Birdstone isn’t likely until the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Nick Zito said Birdstone will enter the Travers Stakes on Aug.28 in Saratoga, where owner Marylou Whitney resides. Servis is considering the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept.6 as Smarty Jones’ next start.

“I’d rather wait till the fall,” Zito said of a rematch. “It sounds like a fighter. Let’s wait till the fall. It would be good for the sport.”

Smarty Jones certainly was good for racing.

The Belmont drew a record 120,139 fans, the largest crowd ever for a horse racing event other than the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness also attracted a record 112,000. Television ratings for the Belmont were the highest since 1977. The Preakness drew its largest TV audience since 1992. More than 35,000 fans boarded trains from Philadelphia to see their hometown colt race in the Belmont.

“He’s done some incredible things all year,” Servis said. “If he would have settled [early in the race] we would have had a Triple Crown. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

The Belmont was decided on the first turn when Rock Hard Ten and Eddington pushed Smarty Jones hard, even though their unrealistic pace compromised their own chances of winning.

Smarty Jones never was able to get a breather while he held the lead, which cost him stamina he would need in the stretch and allowed Birdstone to swoop past to the wire.

“They had nothing to lose, so they sacrificed their horses,” Servis said. “I don’t know how their horses came out of the race, but mine came back fine.”

Mark Hennig, the trainer for Eddington, said the fast early pace hurt Smarty Jones, Rock Hard Ten and his own horse.

“That second half-mile, especially that third quarter of a mile, went very fast, and I think it helped take the starch out of Smarty Jones,” Hennig said. “I think it cooked a lot of horses that tried to make a run at Smarty Jones. It certainly cooked us and Rock Hard Ten, and it softened Smarty Jones.”

Said Jason Orman, Rock Hard Ten’s trainer: “I thought we moved too early, and then, with five-eighths to go, we got into a drive with Smarty Jones. I’m not saying we would have won, but we could have been second or third. We probably didn’t help Smarty Jones, either. He might have won if he hadn’t moved with us.”

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