The connections of the three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s are all rooting for Smarty Jones to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown in next Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I.). The connections of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed gathered together via a teleconference put on by the NTRA Thursday afternoon.
Participating were owner Penny Chenery and jockey Ron Turcotte representing Secretariat; owners Karen and Mickey Taylor and rider Jean Cruget of the Seattle "Slew Crew"; and Patrice Wolfson, representing Harbor View Farm, and jockey Steve Cauthen, of Team Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner in 1978. They praised Smarty Jones, and reflected back on their own personal glory days of the '70s.
"The world loves a winner," Chenery said. "I want to be at Belmont. Everybody wants to be there to see if he can do it. It's an electric atmosphere all day with the build up. For non-racing people, it's a happening; for horse racing people, it's the second coming."
"I look for him to just gallop," Turcotte said of Smarty Jones' chances in the Belmont. "I think he's 25 lengths better than the other 3-year-olds. He has a tremendous advantage. He has a trainer who is committed.
"The only thing that can stop him is that if he hurts himself or he's unable to get in the clear," Turcotte said.
"I can see him blowing the field away," said Cauthen of Smarty Jones. "I feel good about the Smarty Jones team. It takes a great team. You need to have confidence in each other going into that last race. Apparently they're gelling together and are on the same page."
"It would be great for the industry," Karen Taylor said. "He has a mystique. We're at a time when we need heroes and we need him to do it for the industry. The industry really needs this to happen."
The riders, Turcotte, Cruget, and Cauthen, are all fans of Smarty Jones and offered their takes on the race.
"All you have to do is guide him," Cruget said. "Smarty Jones is quick to get into the race. It looks like it only takes him two or three jumps to get into the race. He has a similar running style to Seattle Slew.
"You only ride (the Belmont distance of) 1 1/2 miles maybe once a year, and it can be tough. If they go (a half) in :49 early, he can be OK, but if he goes in :47, then it's going to be a long way around there."
"I would give Stewart Elliott the same advice that (trainer) Lucien Lauren gave me in the paddock," Turcotte said. "Get up there and do your best. I rode Secretariat in most of his races and knew him well. Elliott has done the same thing. I'd tell him to play it by ear."
"The most important factor is to get the horse settled in the first half-mile or five-eighths of a mile" Cauthen said of race-day strategy for Elliott and Smarty Jones. "After that, they'll be no excuses. If he can get Smarty Jones to relax, at any point in the race, then they're (opponents) in trouble.
"After the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), when I watched the race again, I thought to myself that if I could ride any horse in this year's Derby, it'd be Smarty Jones.
"From what I've seen, Smarty Jones is a push-button horse. When he broke from the gate in the Preakness, it looked like he was going to go six furlongs. He reminded me of Affirmed, pricking his ears all the way down the stretch...but Affirmed had Alydar breathing down his neck.
"I've been impressed with how Elliott and (trainer John) Servis have handled the situation, working as a team," Cauthen said.
"In a funny sort of way, you have to ride these three races like they are just any other races," Cauthen said. "The Belmont is tough. Once you get on the horse in the paddock, you can focus and go out and get the job done."
The three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont can seem even longer, according to Cauthen, if "you're not sure or confident. Elliott has handled it very well. If he's confident in the horse, then they're ready to let it ride."
When asked about drawing certain parallels about the charismatic Secretariat to Smarty Jones, Chenery said, "It's a time when we want to feel good about something. He's (Smarty Jones) very appealing; he's easy to love. I had a red horse in blue and white colors and their horse is a red horse in blue and white colors."
In comparing Smarty Jones to the other 11 winners of the Triple Crown, Chenery said, "If he wins the Belmont, and wins it with style, then he deserves to be named with any of them."
Mickey Taylor noted that the '70s Triple Crown winners were all 2-year-old champions. "But the mystique of Smarty Jones is that he's undefeated. That adds a little extra pizzazz." While Seattle Slew is the only undefeated winner of the Triple Crown, Taylor said he wouldn't mind amending that statement to "first undefeated winner of the Triple Crown."
Karen Taylor noted that times have changed...slightly. "Smarty Jones has a cute name, and he loves to run and has speed. Because of the Internet, it makes more exciting for the fans, especially the kids."
The Taylors and Chenery seem ready to welcome Roy and Patricia Chapman to their special club--but want to let them know that winning the Triple Crown "totally changes your life," according to Karen Taylor. "It's important during the Triple Crown to have fun, but you have to take care of your horse and realize what a special animal you have."
"It changes you forever because you instantly become associated with your horse," Chenery said. "It is something special for you, but also for other people. You have to be prepared to share that moment with everybody."