The Morning Line: Smarty Jones

Smarty Jones will always be remembered for one of the most spectacular Triple Crown bids that ended just short of legendary. For a horse that was wasn’t on the experts radar for the better part of the Derby Prep season, he came storming through the first two legs before being denied by the slimmest of heart breaking margins. Smarty Jones is a true thoroughbred champion and very deserving of the derby prep race named in his honor.  The Smarty Jones Stakes is scheduled for Monday January 16. 

Looking back

His racing career officially got underway late sophomore season when he scored back to back wins by no less than 7 ½ lengths. By then, Owners Roy and Patricia Chapman must have had a good feeling about their colt. After that it was Trainer John Servis who gets applause for his approach towards the first Saturday in May.     

A winning spree in sports is always analyzed by estimating when it will end. Smarty Jones was no different. He entered the 2004 Kentucky Derby with a perfect 6-0 record but there were many that doubted his credentials and questioned the challengers he had beat. So even after convincing wins in the Count Fleet, the Southwest, the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, it still wasn’t enough for him to be listed as the official Morning Line favorite.  But the betting public wasn’t fooled.  Sent off as the slight post-time favorite Smarty Jones and Jockey Stewart Elliot dazzled down the stretch on their way to claiming the roses.

He became the first undefeated horse since Seattle Slew in ‘77 and only the 2nd Pennsylvania Bred to win the Kentucky Derby – Lil E. Tee 1992. This small town kid from the rather unknown horse farms of Chester County, PA was on the move towards greatness and it only increased after a record-breaking margin win at the Preakness Stakes.  Scoring that monster 11 ½ length victory not only solidified his talent but it announced to his growing fan base that Smarty Jones would be your Triple Crown winner. So with the city of Philadelphia roaring behind him, Smarty Jones pushed ahead to Belmont Park. 

But there would be no rewriting of the record books in 2004. Instead a long shot horse came onto the scene and ended his quest for glory.  At 36-1 it was Birdstone that charged ahead in the Belmont Stakes and ended another attempt at Triple Crown prominence. However, Smarty Jones was an undisputable Triple Crown fan favorite, maybe one of histories most revered.  He remains a duel triple crown race winner and Kentucky Derby champion that was handled and trained about as good as or maybe better than any horse we’ve seen in a very long time.

Smarty Jones is also a horse that I remember very well.  In fact the 2004 Kentucky Derby was a memorable experience on its own.  I’m not sure if it was the torrential down poor or the race itself.  One unforgettable moment came when I was standing out by the paddock and ducked for cover under the grandstand near the betting windows.  Squeezing in to make the last available row of shelter was interesting but not nearly as interesting as the lone individual that stayed out in the rain. Leave it to a man dressed as Elvis enjoying an ice-cold beer to be the lone ranger who braved the conditions – Must’ve been a big fan of “Kentucky Rain”. Definitely one of my funnier Kentucky Derby moments. 

As far as the race, I was certain that Smarty Jones wouldn’t win the Kentucky Derby.  Obviously I missed that one but he wasn’t done with me yet either.  After finishing 2nd to him in the Derby, Smarty Jones got me again when I watched him own me and the Preakness field.  After that I was convinced. I was sure that I would always remember betting against greatness in the first two legs before he would go on to become the first Triple Crown winner in over 25 years.  However, as you can see, I didn’t have much of a pulse on the Triple Crown that year.

Smarty Jones was a special horse but we were reminded of how extra special a horse has to be to win ‘em all. 2004 was a fantastic year for thoroughbred racing and Smarty Jones will always be remembered for his place and role in the Triple Crown.    

Moving on — 2012 Smarty Jones Stakes

Launched in 2008, it is held now annually at Oaklawn.  Raced over a dirt track and a distance of 1 Mile, no winner in the previous four races has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. The most accomplished winner is Caleb’s Posse as he is now in contention for the 2011 3-yr-old champion and Male Sprinter Eclipse awards after a spectacular season capped off by a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. 

A field of 12 has entered and will be set to kick off the Oaklawn Park derby prep season. Highlighting the field as the Morning Line favorite is Optimizer, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.  Although he has yet to score his first graded stakes victory there are still high expectations for this colt.  Terry Thompson will take over the reins for the first time, replacing Robby Albarado. 

Grabbing a lot of early attention is the Filly that will face the boys, On Fire Baby. Finishing her 2-yr-old season with back to back Grade 2 wins at Churchill Downs proves that this young lady may have what it takes to defeat the boys. It’s been since 1988 that D. Wayne Lukas and Winning Colors became the last Filly and only the 3rd all time to win the Kentucky Derby.  Since On Fire Baby is already up for taking on the boys, a big win here may put her on the trail to follow in her footsteps.

Smarty Jones Stakes | Purse $100,000 | 3 Year Olds | 1 Mile | Dirt

1 Laurie’s Rocket  B. Hernandez, Jr.  D. Stewart ML: 8-1 
2 Junebugred  J. Bravo  S. Hobby ML: 5-1 
3 Prince Cheval  G. Kuntzweiler  G. Allen ML: 20-1 
4 No Spin  C. Hill  T. Ice ML: 6-1 
5 Fastestwhogetspaid  I. Ocampo  B. Williamson ML: 15-1 
6 Optimizer  T. Thompson  D. Lukas ML: 5-2 
7 Copus  J. Felix  B. Rainwater ML: 30-1 
8 Jake Mo  M. Berry  A. Milligan ML: 10-1 
9 Hard Nosed  R. Santana, Jr.  R. Moquett ML: 30-1 
10 On Fire Baby  J. Johnson  G. Hartlage ML: 7-2 
11 King Coral  G. Saez  A. Milligan ML: 20-1 
12 Reckless Jerry  S. Laviolette  K. Smith ML: 10-1 

The Smarty Jones Stakes is great race to the get the Derby Prep season underway in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Best of luck to all of our contenders and their connections, we hope to see many of these 3-yr-olds further down the road to the Derby after tomorrow.

Written by: Little Brink



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