Beaten Smarty Jones goes home quietly
by Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Smarty Jones headed back to his home at Philadelphia Park on Sunday, still a fan favorite but no longer undefeated after his upset loss in the Belmont Stakes.
After a lonesome walk in the cold rain at Belmont Park, Smarty boarded a van for the ride to Philly. This time, there was no police escort until he got near his home track, and only a few cheering fans outside when arrived.
"What a difference a day makes," trainer John Servis said, smiling.
Birdstone, a 36-1 long shot, overtook Smarty Jones in the stretch of Saturday's grueling 1 1/2 -mile Belmont and won by a length -- briefly silencing the record 120,139 fans who had whooped it up for the small chestnut colt they hoped would become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 26 years.
"There were a lot of cheers for him and that made me feel good," Servis said Sunday as steady rain fell outside Barn 5."The American people wanted it so bad."
Behind him, Smarty Jones pricked his ears and then munched on the straw bedding in his stall. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner already had eaten breakfast and gotten a bath before starting his 100-mile trip home.
"If he had settled, he would have got 1 1/2 miles," Servis said."You would have had a Triple Crown winner, I guarantee that. In my heart, I feel he was the best horse."
Winning trainer Nick Zito took a backseat amid the Smarty hoopla, and a day later, he still didn't mind being a bit player in Smarty's big show.
"Smarty Jones was a worthy star," he said."The average person was there because of Smarty Jones. He has done a lot."
Zito, who won his first Belmont in 12 tries, apologized to Servis after the race. Winning jockey Edgar Prado expressed regret at spoiling Smarty's party, as did Birdstone's owner Marylou Whitney.
"I don't know of anyone who would be more deserving than Nick," Servis said.
Servis refused to blame jockey Stewart Elliott -- his friend of 20 years -- for a bad ride.
"Stew did a good job. You can't drag him off the pace," he said, pointing out that Smarty Jones was"half-bent" over straining against Elliott's hold.
Purge gave way to Smarty Jones after setting the early pace. Soon, Smarty Jones was being pressed by Eddington and Rock Hard Ten.
"He was a little upset. He felt he would have settled if those guys hadn't pressed him so hard," Servis said of Elliott."He knew they were just sacrificing their horses. He had horses breathing down his neck. I kind of thought it would set up like that."
``If you got a horse going for the Triple Crown, he's got a bulls-eye on him. Those people have nothing to lose," he said."You pull out all the stops."
Smarty Jones came out of the longest race he'll ever run no worse for wear.
"He was bright-eyed this morning," Servis said."He's going to get three, four weeks off. I'll let him rest up and put him on a schedule for the Breeders' Cup (in October)."
Owners Pat and Roy Chapman plan to tour Kentucky horse farms in the next few weeks in search of a happy home for Smarty Jones once his breeding days begin. One of their criteria is a place that will allow easy access to fans.
But Smarty's racing days aren't over yet. After a break, he could run in the Pennsylvania Derby at his home track in September as a thank you to the local fans. Then there's the Breeders' Cup in Texas.
And if things work out, Smarty could run as a 4-year-old.
"They really want to run him next year, even if it's only a couple of races," Servis said.
Servis advised disappointed Philadelphians, seeking the city's first sports champion in decades, to stay positive.
"Those people shouldn't have their head down. If you understand this business, you know we had a great run and he's not done," he said."He's going to mature, he's going to get better."