Friday, June 4, 2004

Expect Smarty to get his Crown

Colt seems up to task for Belmont

By Steve Cauthen
Special to the Enquirer

Smarty Jones gets a bath at Belmont Park Thursday.
Associated Press
Like everybody else that loves great sporting events, I am looking forward with anticipation to Saturday to see what Smarty Jones is capable of. I would love to be there in New York, but I'll be watching from home, as all three of my daughters are in a dance recital shortly after the race.

Nine times since Affirmed, horses have come into the Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown. It's usually hard to know what to expect. But this time, it's different. I feel strongly that Smarty Jones will win.

It's my opinion we may not have seen the very best of this horse yet. Before the Preakness, I wasn't convinced that a mile and a half was going to be his best distance. But afterward, I was thinking there's no reason he couldn't have gone another half-mile. It looked like he was just rolling. He didn't seem to have a bottom to him.

Consider that Gary Stevens, a great jockey who rode runner-up Rock Hard Ten in the Preakness, said his horse found another gear coming into the stretch but was losing ground to Smarty Jones. That tells me a lot. By this time next year, maybe we'll be considering this horse the best we ever saw. I'm not predicting that, but I'm saying that's a possibility.

The thing about Smarty Jones is he has that special look. It's hard for me to explain. With great horses, a lot of it seems to be inside their mind or their heart. They have that natural ability, but it also goes along with desire - a desire to run, a desire to win.

Like the great champions, as time has gone along he has matured. Not only physically, but mentally as well. It's in the way he seems to be becoming more of a push-button horse. Early in his career he was kind of headstrong and freewheeling. He's now able to do pretty much whatever his jockey is asking of him. As long as Stewart Elliott can get the horse settled in the first part of this race and there's nothing wrong with him, I think he's going to win by the length of a street.

I accept that Rock Hard Ten and Eddington are lightly raced and have room for improvement. But I don't know, even if they do improve, if they can overcome the difference between them and Smarty Jones.

Every year after the Kentucky Derby, my phone starts ringing with reporters wanting to know if that year's horse can win the Triple Crown, and why it's so hard to do. If the horse then wins the Preakness, the phone won't stop ringing the next three weeks.

It's a burden I'm happy to deal with as best I can. The game has given me a lot, and anything I can give back to the game, I feel I owe.

I'm obviously honored to be the last jockey to do it. I think all those years gone by since 1978 prove what a difficult thing it is. The great ones don't appear every year. Sometimes there's a long drought. When you get them, you have to really appreciate them.

I've never rooted against any of the guys going for the Triple Crown. As a lover of horse racing, I've been longing to see another great champion come along. Racing deserves and needs a horse like this to invigorate everybody. It'll be a big boon for the game.

Enquirer reporter Neil Schmidt contributed.

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