Editor's note: This story by Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse, was originally published on bloodhorse.com on March 22. It is being re-published as a result of Smarty Jones' success in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Looking at the handsome Smarty Jones today, it's hard to believe he once was so disfigured he was known as Quasimodo around the New Jersey Equine Clinic, where he had been brought after smashing up his head and face in a starting gate incident last spring.
Only three weeks after arriving at trainer John Servis' barn at Philadelphia Park, Smarty Jones was being schooled in the gate when he reared up, striking his head on the iron bar that runs across the top of the gate.
When the call came in to Dr. Patricia Hogan of the New Jersey Equine Clinic that the colt was being sent over, she was told his eye was so bad it probably would have to be removed.
"His whole face was horrible, and his left eye was so swollen it wasn't even visible," Hogan said. "I really wasn't sure if I could save it or not. In addition, he had multiple fractures of his skull, and the orbit (circular bone that holds the eyeball) was broken. He was a real mess."
It was determined that no surgery was necessary, and Smarty could be nursed back to health. His head was wrapped in bandages to protect the eye without crushing the fractures, and special medication was applied to reduce the swelling inside the eye socket. Soon after, Hogan saw that the colt had vision in the eye, and after about two weeks he was released. Little did Hogan and the staff realize that Quasimodo, as they called him, would soon turn into Prince Charming.
"He was an excellent patient, and such a beautiful horse," said Hogan, who runs the clinic along with its founder, Dr. Scott Palmer, who was instrumental in saving the lives of former patients such as Mister Frisky and Lost Code.
"He had a lot of spunk, and nothing fazed him," Hogan said of Smarty Jones. "He was so bright and never missed a meal despite the terrible ordeal he had gone through. He was so great to work with. I actually remember John saying, 'You got to take care of this one, because this one can really run.' People tell you that a lot, but this time it stuck in my mind. Now, when I talk to John I remind him of what he said."
The staff at the clinic has been following Smarty Jones' career, celebrating each victory. "Every week we cut out articles about him and post them in the surgery room," Hogan said. "John has been a client of ours for a long, long time, and it's also nice to see him do well."
Although Smarty Jones has recovered fully from the incident, it has left some mental scars. "Now, as soon as he knows he's going to the gate he starts to get a little reluctant," Servis said. "He won't just walk in. But once you get behind him and load him, he'll go right in and he's fine in there. But he's lucky to be alive after the incident, and he hasn't forgotten it. I mean, he was touch and go for a while."
No one knows how long the Smarty Jones fairy tale will last, but if he can make it past the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), he should become the darling of the public and the media at Churchill Downs. Here is an undefeated horse with a children's book-like name, who was bred in Pennsylvania by his owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman of Someday Farm, who have a grand total of two horses in training. The Chapmans named their Elusive Quality
colt Smarty Jones after Patricia's mother, who was nicknamed Smarty Jones by her grandparents at an early age. This colt in particular was named after her because he was born on her birthday, which also happens to be Servis' birthday.
And the only reason Servis wound up training Smarty Jones is that the Chapmans' regular trainer, Bob Camac, was murdered in December of 2001 by his stepson, who also killed his mother, Camac's wife, Maryann. It was Camac who talked the Chapmans into breeding Smarty Jones' dam, I'll Get Along, to Elusive Quality.
So, with each victory by Smarty Jones on the Derby trail, another scene is played out in this real-life soap opera that is sure to touch people all over the country.