- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

BALTIMORE.

America can’t get enough of Smarty Jones.

He has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They want to hold a parade for him down Broad Street in Philadelphia. An army of photographers greeted him yesterday when he arrived at Pimlico Race Course. And if he wins the 129th running of the Preakness Saturday, the jones the media has for Smarty will be insatiable.

“It’s been unbelievable,” said trainer John Servis. “I had no idea it would be like this.”

What is it that makes Smarty Jones such a compelling phenomenon? It’s not the same tale as last year’s Cinderella horse, Funny Cide, which is simply another variation of the long shot made good. Smarty Jones was no long shot. He was undefeated coming into the Derby and was among the favorites throughout the week and became the favorite by race time.

No, what makes Smarty Jones so attractive is the ugliness that surrounds the history of this horse. It is the beast that makes this beauty.

This horse that appeared to be so beautiful as he strutted this short distance yesterday was so hideous nearly a year ago after smashing his head against a starting gate bar that he was nicknamed Quasimodo.

“What a mess,” thought Dr. Patricia Hogan, who was faced with performing emergency surgery on the horse. “Where do I start?”

She managed to repair the damage to the point where the image of this horse with a swollen head and eyes falling out of their sockets was unthinkable when Smarty Jones nodded his head in his van. That’s what the pictures were about yesterday. The photographers were shooting the Hunchback of Notre Dame turned into Clark Gable.

Then there is Servis, the trainer, and the ugliness that brought him to the place he is now. Robert Camac was supposed to be Smarty Jones’ trainer. He was the one who suggested to horse owners Roy and Patricia Chapman the breeding of Elusive Quality and I’ll Get Along that created Smarty Jones in February 2001.

But Camac and his wife were shot and killed 10 months later by her son in their South Jersey home. Pat Chapman said she still has his name in her phone book.

Out of that nightmare, Servis, a journeyman trainer who grew up in Charles Town, W.Va. and worked, as did Camac, out of Philadelphia Park, stepped in and realized his dream to train a horse that would someday win the Kentucky Derby.

Then there is Stewart Elliott, the small-time jockey who had never raced in the Kentucky Derby and became the first jockey since Ronnie Franklin rode Spectacular Bid in 1979 to win the Derby in his first try.

The beauty here is the Chapmans and Servis did not abandon Elliott for a more experienced rider. The beast is that Elliott pleaded guilty to beating a man with a beer bottle and pool cue in a fight three years ago, and there are new reports about domestic violence charges and restraining orders.

Finally, there is the atmosphere that has been suffocating the country since September 11 and has become nearly unbearably sad with the daily reports of American soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and the controversy surrounding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war.

“I think the timing of the whole thing, with everything going on in Iraq and it has gotten so bloody and so violent, I think that people are getting the newspaper, and not looking forward to reading the front page,” Servis said. “They’re going to the sports page and getting engulfed by this story of this horse that was a nobody that’s actually done something.”

It may appear trite to mention a horse in the same breath with what is going on in Iraq but it is hard to find beauty these days, and when it rears up and kicks like Smarty Jones has, you hang on to it and ride it as long as it lasts.

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