It took a while for it to sink in, but the magnitude of Smarty Jones' accomplishments in 2004 finally hit trainer John Servis like a ton of bricks. "Gosh, I won the Kentucky Derby!" he said to himself while driving recently with jockey Stewart Elliott.
"Not only did I win the Kentucky Derby, but look what a story I've been part of all year long." He then turned to Elliott and shared his revelation. "You know, Stew, what this horse has done for horse racing; people are going to be talking about Stewart Elliott when you're dead and gone, buddy."
Servis had good reason to immortalize himself, his jockey, and most importantly, his horse. All three had been brought together amid the metal and concrete of the Philadelphia Park backstretch to write one of the most magical chapters in the annals of Thoroughbred racing and the Triple Crown.
But while many consider the nationwide celebrity status Smarty Jones attained to be his most enduring legacy, it was his feats on the racetrack that inspired "Smartymania" and "Smarty Fever," and "The Philly Flyer" and "The Philly Flash," and any other titles given to this remarkable horse and the frenzy he created during an unforgettable five weeks in May and June.
Those feats included a six-for-seven campaign in 2004, with his only defeat--a second in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I)--arguably his best performance, with the exception of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). In the Preakness, he won by a record 11 1/2 lengths, and his time was faster than the top-class 4-year-old Southern Image ran in the previous day's Pimlico Special (gr. I).
"I believe Smarty Jones is one of the greatest horses of all time. He has no chinks in his armor. When they made this horse they threw away the mold." Ironically, those were the words of Bobby Frankel, trainer of Smarty's Horse of the Year rival Ghostzapper, following the Preakness.
Smarty won on all types of surfaces--over a fast, but dead, track at Pimlico; a deep, sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I); and a muddy track in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), in which he overcame breaking from the 11 post. In his gallant losing effort in the Belmont Stakes, he ran his three main opponents into the ground with a brutal third quarter in :22 4/5 and fourth quarter in :23 4/5, and his 1 1/4-mile time of 2:00.52 would have won every Kentucky Derby but four.
Servis and breeder/owners Roy and Patricia Chapman received hundreds of thousands of letters from adoring fans of all ages. The horse graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and was featured on A&E's "Biography." He was given police escorts wherever he went, and his presence could always be detected by the sounds of helicopters whirring overhead. He transcended the Sport of Kings like no other since Secretariat.
"If I had to describe how all this made me feel in one word it would be 'proud,' " Servis said. "It just made me so proud to be able to be a part of it."
But racing's most luminous stars seem to shine only briefly these days, and by early August, the brightest star of them all was gone, retired to Three Chimneys Farm. Will Rogers was right when he said, "Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth."
Servis could only say his goodbyes and, like all of racing, accept the huge void Smarty's departure created. "It got to the point where I just didn't want to talk about it anymore," he said. "The damage was done."
Smarty Jones leaves behind a whirlwind of memories, not only of a heroic, fairy tale-like figure, but an extremely gifted racehorse who never got a chance to catch up to the greatness that surely awaited him.To purchase Smarty Jones books and photographs, click here