Will Smarty race past Belmont?
By Darren Rovell
Special to ESPN.com
GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- If Smarty Jones wins the Belmont on Saturday, he will become the richest horse in North American history. But that doesn't mean his owners will be able to afford to keep racing the Triple Crown winner next year.
Although the horse's owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, previously had hoped to race him for another year, they said on Friday at a news conference promoting Visa's $5 million Triple Crown Challenge bonus, that the price of insuring the horse might be too great for it to make financial sense for the horse to race in 2005.
"Initially, we had decided that we were going to run him through his four-year-old year if we were able to do it," said Pat Chapman. "But I'm learning a little bit more about the horse business since we made that initial statement and we're just going to have to see and make the decision as we go."
With a victory in the Belmont, the horse's earnings will exceed $13 million. Smarty Jones' syndication rights are reportedly expected to be worth $40 million to $60 million, an issue not relevant with last year's Triple Crown hopeful Funny Cide, who is a gelding.
"Personally, as a trainer, I'd love to keep him," said John Servis, the horse's trainer. "If he's still healthy and running good, I'm going to do my best to talk him into running."
The Chapmans reportedly have talked about running Smarty Jones in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Labor Day. Among the 11 past Triple Crown winners, an injured Count Fleet had the fewest starts (2) after winning horse racing's most elusive prize in 1943.
The Chapmans could probably get as much as $40 million worth of mortality insurance coverage on the horse, according to Sylvester Kiger of Kiger Insurance, an equine insurance firm that insured 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Mortality insurance, as well as infertility insurance which covers the horse should he become infertile from accident, sickness or disease, is usually obtained at a 5 percent premium, which lowers to about 3.5 percent if the horse is no longer racing, Kiger said.
Once the horse is retired, it is expected that the group that controls the syndication rights will take out stallion first-season infertility insurance, which guarantees that 60 percent of the mares become fertilized in the horse's first season at stud. Kiger said he expects that the owners of Smarty Jones could get as much as $14 million of coverage on that type of insurance at a 6 percent premium.
"We have not made any firm decisions. At this point we are still in the learning stage," Pat insisted.
Still, with the money available in stud fees waiting and the rising cost of insurance, she says it's getting closer to looking like Smarty Jones will retire.
"This horse is so under-insured and every few million they raise his value, the higher the premium goes," she said. "And it's just getting to a point where it's like, 'Wow, how long do we want to keep paying this kind of premium?' You would have to win more than one $1 million race to pay that premium. You'd have to win a lot of them."
When he is retired, Smarty Jones will most likely stand stud in Kentucky.
Pat Chapman acknowledged on Friday that 10 farms all located within the state had expressed interest. She said that any farm that would ultimately win out would have to be able to handle visitors who want to come see the horse. Some of the farms that have talked with the Chapmans have expressed concerns over the possibility of Smarty Jones getting back on the racetrack, while others have left the decision up to the Chapmans.
"We'll have to talk to the horse," said Roy "Chappy" Chapman. "He'll tell us if he wants to run again. And they do let you know. They really let you know."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.