Keith Jones believes he has called about 40,000 races in his career, but he clearly remembers the ninth race at Philadelphia Park on Nov. 22 of last year. Jones said it is among the most impressive performances he ever has seen on the track.
It was the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for 2-year-old state-breds. Roy and Pat Chapman's Smarty Jones, in only his second start, won by 15 lengths in a sizzling 1:21.88 for seven furlongs. He actually broke slowly--10th in an 11-horse field--but still was in front by two lengths after an opening quarter in :21.88 on a fast track.
"I was blown away," said Jones, who has called races at Philly Park for the past 18 years. "When you see a horse in your binoculars moving like that, it gets your attention very quickly. He was a 2-year-old making only his second start, and jockey Stewart Elliot was just sitting still on him.
"I looked up (at the teletimer) and he had clicked off 44 1/5 for the half. He continued in that vein, and Stewart never asked him to run even the littlest bit."
Of the colt's first start, which he won by 7 3/4 lengths Nov. 9 at Philly Park, Jones said: "When I called the race, I said he was very impressive, but I didn't jump out of my shoes or go through the roof."
Smarty Jones, now preparing for his Visa Triple Crown Challenge bid, hasn't raced at Philly Park since the Nursery victory, but he trains at the Bensalem Township track. Jones also serves as director of media relations, and said the last six weeks have been unreal for a track that doesn't get much media attention.
Jones said the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) on Labor Day is usually the busiest, followed by Kentucky Derby (gr. I) day. This year, when Smarty Jones won the Derby, "it was as if Kentucky Derby day had become Pennsylvania Derby day," Jones said. "I was looking down at people on the apron, and saw an apron that was just packed."
The track has received media requests from Canada to Australia. Local media in particular has been on the trail of Smarty Jones, who has won all eight of his starts.
"There certainly hasn't been anything like this until now," Jones said. "He's a natural phenomenon, from right here at The Pha."
Jones has known the colt's trainer, John Servis, for about 20 years, and Elliott for about 10 years.
Jones began calling races in 1985 at Garden State Park in New Jersey. He keeps a rather busy schedule: Aside from calling races four days a week, he is in his eighth year as the public address announcer for the Philadelphia Phantoms in the American Hockey League, and on May 19 headed to South Jersey to call an afternoon of steeplechase racing at Atlantic City Race Course.
Jones also has filled in as PA announcer for the Philadelphia Flyers in the National Hockey League.