ESPN Horse Racing

'Smarty' looks fit to wear Crown
By Bill Finley
Special to

There probably is some reason why Smarty Jones can lose the Belmont. I just can't think of one.

Smarty Jones
Smarty Jones winning the Preakness by record 11 1/2 lengths.
The Belmont keeps tripping up Triple Crown hopefuls, dashing racing's dreams and keeping that $5 million check from Visa locked up in a vault somewhere. Remarkably, nine horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness since 1979 and all nine have lost in the Belmont. That includes five horses over the last seven years. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem and Funny Cide will all go down as horses who have broken a lot of hearts over a short period of time.

Smarty Jones is different and here's why: he is so much better than the competition and has no flaws. Funny Cide had to deal with Empire Maker. War Emblem was a one-dimensional front-runner. Charismatic and Real Quiet just weren't that good. Silver Charm ran into a very dangerous horse in Touch Gold, who had a horrible trip when fourth in the Preakness.

"That horse is as good as any horse I've seen and I've seen some good ones and I've been on some good ones," said Gary Stevens, who was aboard second-place finisher Rock Hard Ten. "I was on a good one today. Smarty really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away."

That's the thing. This wasn't anything like the Kentucky Derby, where he merely beat the others and did so over a sloppy track that might have given him a big edge. He absolutely demolished nine pretty good 3-year-olds, horses that have class, speed and quality. After winning the Preakness by a record 11 lengths, Smarty Jones showed that he is in a class by himself.

"I had kind of a sleepless night because there were some tough horses in this race," winning owner Roy Chapman said. "I thought he might win, but I never thought he'd blow them away like he blew them away."

There will be some new faces in the Belmont, including several that passed the Preakness after running in the Kentucky Derby. But can you really see Friends Lake, The Cliff's Edge, Tapit, etc., beating Smarty Jones? No. Can you see any of the horses left in his tracks in the Preakness beating him? No, again.

"I have a good horse, but that was a great horse that beat us," said Jason Orman, Rock Hard Ten's trainer.

How about the mile and a half distance? Smarty Jones is, after all, by Elusive Quality, who was a miler. But Smarty Jones looks like he can win at any distance. There certainly wasn't anything about the way he drew off in the stretch Saturday to suggest that an extra five-sixteenths of a mile is going to cause him any problems.

"He handled this race so easily and he galloped out strong," jockey Stewart Elliott said. "He was not blowing after the race. It didn't seem like this took much out of him. Right now, he's doing whatever I want him to. I don't think the mile and a half will be a problem."

Will Elliott, the jockey from little Philly Park, blow it? By now, it's quite obvious this guy is as solid as they come.

Perhaps the only cause for concern is the wear and tear factor. Trainer John Servis has said all along that he fears sooner or later a tough schedule will take a toll on his horse. Earlier last week, he said there was no chance he would run in the Belmont if Smarty Jones didn't win the Preakness.

Yet, Servis' fears were way off the mark last Saturday. Obviously, this horse was as fit, ready and as sharp as can be. The credit for that goes to Servis, an unheralded trainer who has done a terrific job with this horse. So far, he's made all the right moves and there's no reason to believe he won't keep the horse on the right track. In fact, it looks like Smarty Jones is getting better with every race.

"I've said it before, I haven't been able to get him tired," Servis said. "Just like Stew mentioned, he has really matured and has learned how to rate. He has the ability to go to the next gear like he does. I think there's some room for improvement."

He's 8-for-8, has won the Kentucky Derby and just destroyed his competition in the Preakness. He doesn't have to improve. He just has to stay the same for the next three weeks. On June 5 at Belmont Park, there's going to be well more than 100,000 people in the stands. This time they're not going to go home disappointed.

Smarty Jones wins Preakness by 11.5 lengths

Preakness results

Cronley: Preakness Day's smartest moments

Finley: Belmont Rundown