Philly's horse is fast becoming America's horse.
In front of a record crowd of 112,668 at Pimlico Race Course May 15, Roy and Pat Chapman's Smarty Jones made a shambles of the $1 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and kept his record perfect with his eighth win, this one by 11 ½ lengths. Smarty Jones drew loud cheers in the post parade, and they were even louder as he pulled away in total command in the lane.
The victory sets the stage for a dramatic Triple Crown try at the Belmont Stakes June 5. The Pennsylvania bred has a chance to become just the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978. The last undefeated Triple Crown winner was Seattle Slew in 1977.
He would also claim another $5 million bonus and become racing's richest horse.
Fans at Pimlico and around the country sent $85,120,667 through the pari-mutuel windows. Betting on the Preakness alone was $58,791,406. Both were Pimlico records as well.
Mercedes Stables and Paulson's Rock Hard Ten, reluctant to load, rallied from well off the pace under Gary Stevens to finish second in only his fourth career start.
"He got a little tired at the end, but that wasn't the difference," said Rock hard Ten's trainer, Jason Orman. "I have a good horse, but that was a great horse that beat us. He ran a very respectable race and I'm proud of his effort."
Stevens heartily agreed.
"That horse is as good as any horse I've ever seen, and I've seen some good ones and I've been on some good ones, and I was on a good one today," Stevens said. "Smarty really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away."
Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's Lion Heart, gunned to the front from post one under Mike Smith, held the lead until the top of stretch while racing well off the rail.
Jockey Stewart Elliot guided Smarty Jones from outside of Lion Heart to the rail, and the colt by Elusive Quality
exploded to the front with startling ease.
Eddington rallied for third, two lengths behind Rock Hard Ten. Lion Heart was fourth, followed by Imperialism, Sir Shackleton, Borrego, Little Matth Man, Song of the Sword, and Water Cannon.
"He just keeps getting better, the son of a gun," Elliott said during an interview immediately after the race. "He did it so easy. He has really gotten it together. I just rode him with confidence."
The margin of victory in the Preakness was the largest in the 129-year history of the race. It wasn't the largest margin of victory by Smarty Jones, who won the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Philadelphia Park last fall by 15 lengths.
"I got goosebumps," trainer John Servis said after he watched the race. "I was concerned about him coming back in two weeks, but he had no works, and I think it was a good move."
Smarty Jones will be the sixth horse in the last eight years with a shot at the Triple Crown. The difference this time around is that Smarty is the only one who hasn't lost.
``He came through for America. I'm so impressed with his effort,'' trainer John Servis said. ``I knew he had to bring his best game. I knew this was the toughest race he was going to be in in a long time. And he brought it. He brought it big time.''
Indeed he did. Smarty Jones, who trains at Philly Park, covered the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness in 1:55.59, well off the track record of 1:52.50 by Farma Way in 1991. The Preakness record of 1:53.40 is held by Louis Quatorze (1996) and Tank's Prospect (1985).
The early fractions, set by Lion Heart, were :23.65 for the quarter, :47.32 for the half, and 1:11.53 for six furlongs on the fast track.
"He seems to have a problem, I don't know yet," trainer Patrick Biancone said of Lion Heart. "He's run big races. When Smarty Jones swallowed him in two jumps, he said, 'Not again,' but he did keep fighting. Smarty Jones is a freak. It's good for racing to have a great champion like Smarty Jones."
Smarty Jones, the 3-5 favorite, added another $650,00 to his bankroll. He returned $3.40, $3 and $2.60. Rock Hard Ten returned $5 and $4. Eddington, with Jerry Bailey aboard, paid $5.20.
"I was as happy as a clam going down the backstretch," Bailey said of his ride aboard Eddington. "I was where I wanted to be and everything seemed to be going great. Then my horse quit in the middle of the race. Then in the stretch, he decided to run again and we got third. He's going to have to learn to run a little better than that."
The odds no doubt were impacted by a large number of $2 bettors who have been captivated by the Pennsylvania-bred.
Smarty Jones earned his connections a $5-million bonus when he won the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby (gr. II), and Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He now is eligible for the $5-million Visa Triple Crown Challenge, which is offered to a horse that sweeps the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). According to Equibase, the purse Saturday moves Smarty Jones to fourth on the all-time list with earnings of $7,363,535. With a victory in the Belmont Stakes, he would surpass Cigar as the all-time money winning horse.