- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

BALTIMORE — A record performance yesterday left thoroughbred racing ready and willing to crown a new legend.

Smarty Jones won the 129th Preakness Stakes by a record 11 lengths with his rivals seemingly crossing the finish line in another time zone. Once Smarty Jones left Lion Heart behind at the top of the stretch, the record crowd of 112,668 at Pimlico Race Course knew it was watching a champion at work.

“I got goose bumps,” Smarty Jones trainer John Servis said. “This horse is great.”

Now Smarty Jones heads to the 136th Belmont Stakes on June 5 where he will seek to become racing’s first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978. However, the last nine Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners lost the Belmont, five since 1997.

“He’ll do whatever I want him to,” said jockey Stewart Elliott. “I don’t see [the Belmont] being a problem.”

Smarty Jones is only the third undefeated Derby-Preakness winner. The colt, now 8-0, is the first since 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew to enter the Belmont unbeaten. Some skeptics had wondered whether his pre-Derby route was tough enough, but Smarty Jones has answered those questions.

“We know someday, somewhere he’ll get beat,” Smarty Jones owner Roy Chapman said, “but we’ll put it off as long as we can.”

The Preakness was supposed to be a two-horse race between the top two Derby finishers, and Kentucky runner-up Lion Heart led for the first mile before Smarty Jones caught him midway on the final turn.

Smarty Jones quickly turned the lead into a five-length edge entering the stretch and was so far ahead that Elliott put away the whip before the final sixteenth mile. The 7-10 favorite covered 1 3/16 miles in 1:55 2/5 with Rock Hard Ten a distant second.

“I hit a gear and Smarty Jones hit four more gears,” said Rock Hard Ten jockey Gary Stevens. “We may have seen history in the making.”

The only drama came on the first turn when leader Lion Heart went four wide to force Smarty Jones even farther out. It seemed reminiscent of the 1988 Preakness, when Forty Niner took Winning Colors far outside, costing both a chance to win, but Lion Heart jockey Mike Smith said the trip was unintentional.

“He just floats out,” Smith said. “You have to let him go a bit.”

Said Elliott: “I wasn’t worried. I just wanted to have clear sailing. As it worked out, he had me in the middle of the track, but we weren’t boxed out.”

Smarty Jones’ winning move included his passing Lion Heart on the inside for the first time in his career. That the colt would do something different with ease in a crucial situation was impressive.

Elliott then tapped Smarty Jones lightly twice on the right shoulder to ensure that the colt wouldn’t relax with no one near him. Elliott was worried about late-runners and Rock Hard Ten was moving well to rally from sixth to second on the turn. However, Smarty Jones more than doubled his five-length lead while cruising down the stretch.

It wasn’t as much of a blowout as Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont, but Elliott needed to look around to find trailers because he couldn’t hear them.

“When I asked him turning for home and he responded like he did, I peeked back and nobody was coming, so I knew we were winning,” Elliott said.

Rock Hard Ten failed to become the second non-Derby starter in 21 years to win the Preakness but still gave a solid effort in his fourth career start. Rock Hard Ten could emerge as Smarty Jones’ biggest rival in an expected small Belmont field.

“Smarty just pulled off,” Stevens said. “That horse is as good as any horse I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some good ones. Smarty really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away.”

Lion Heart may have had enough of his nemesis. Though he managed a reasonable early pace by covering the first three-quarters mile in 1:11 2/5, Lion Heart couldn’t match Smarty Jones when the pace quickened.

“I stayed after him and kept him in [the race] best I could,” Smith said, “but Smarty Jones was just amazing today.”

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