Sunday, May 2, 2004
'Smarty' wins with sentimental journey
Fans' favorite holds up at the finish
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOUISVILLE - The funny thing about the term "favorite" is it doesn't always indicate the horse expected to win.
It simply means the fans' favorite horse. By late afternoon Saturday, as Smarty Jones' odds were bet the lowest and fans called "C'mon, Smarty!" from all over Churchill Downs, it was clear where sentiment sat.
When that horse outran Lion Heart to the wire, the Kentucky Derby had delivered to so many bettors more than just money.
"Because it's such a great story, I think there were a lot of people rooting for us, and that's probably what made him the (4-1) favorite," winning trainer John Servis said. "I'm sure they're cashing their checks now and are tickled to death."
The story of a blue-collar colt and the cast of unknowns riding along with his dream - which played so well a year ago with Funny Cide winning the Derby and Preakness, and with Seabiscuit warming hearts in theaters - returned Saturday with even greater depth.
Smarty Jones' owners, who bred him on their Pennsylvania farm, nearly sold him as they tended to broken hearts. The horse later nearly died before ever racing. And Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott found in him a rare opportunity to rise above racing's minor leagues.
Now the sport suddenly has an undefeated horse with heart. Asked if the story could match Funny Cide's or Seabiscuit's sagas, Elliott said, "I think we just did it."
This Smarty party celebrated the biggest payday in racing history and the busting of numerous Derby stereotypes.
Favorites don't win this race. Neither do Pennsylvania-breds. Neither do first-time jockeys, nor trainers from mid-level tracks.
Yet this horse became just the second favorite to triumph here since 1979, the second winner ever from his home state, and the first winner carrying a rookie rider since 1979. With a 7-for-7 career record, he's just the fifth undefeated Derby winner ever and the first since Seattle Slew in 1977.
He won the biggest payday in racing history - $5,854,800 - thanks to a $5 million bonus Oaklawn Park offered to any horse that could win its Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and then take the Kentucky Derby. If Smarty Jones wins the Preakness and Belmont, he could collect on another $5 million bonus, from Visa, sponsor of the Triple Crown.
"It's great for the industry," Servis said. "It gives them something to look forward to."
Smarty Jones won by 2 3/4 lengths, clocking a 2:04.06 over a sloppy track. He hung close to front-running Lion Heart on the backstretch, caught him at the top of the stretch and displayed a burst when Elliott finally went to the whip.
The horse had been somewhat unsung until this race, as he began racing at Philadelphia Park and then made his preps at Oaklawn Park. Yet that asterisk next to his unbeaten record has evolved into an exclamation point.
"He seems to be the people's horse," Elliott said.
The owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman, bought a 100-acre farm in Pennsylvania in the 1980s. They employed a trainer named Bob Camac, who arranged the breeding of Smarty Jones at their farm.
Ten months after the colt's birth, Camac and his wife were killed by Camac's stepson. Devastated, the Chapmans sold their farm, their breeding stock and all but four horses. One was Smarty Jones, whom they would entrust to Servis, who was friends with Camac.
Patricia Chapman said several members of the Camac family had gathered back home to cheer for this horse.
"Bob's legacy lives on," she said.
Servis had spoken of wanting to give Roy, 77 and sick with emphysema, a Derby horse.
"We've had an awful lot of horses, and sometimes you cheer as loud when you have a $10,000 claimer winner as any," Roy said. "You love them all. But we never thought we'd get here, until we met Smarty and this guy (Servis) sitting next to me."
Smarty Jones struck his head last July in the starting gate before ever racing, badly enough that Servis thought him dead. But he recovered and began racing last November.
Servis, 45, said he never wanted to come to Churchill Downs until he had a Derby horse. Elliott, a 39-year-old journeyman who quit riding briefly in the mid-1980s, also had never been to the track until this weekend.
Servis leaned over to Roy Chapman before the race Saturday and said, " 'Chap,' whatever happens, we've had a great ride."
Buckle up. It's not over, and the racing world is now on board.
130th KENTUCKY DERBY
wins with sentimental journey
Elliott, it's just a race - but a big one
Jones draws a crowd at home track
sees good things in the future
special place in their hearts
make for a contrasting infield
ads raise no fuss
gallery: The race
Photo gallery: The scene
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