Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Smarty Goes to the Races, Part 111

Trainer John Servis skeptically received Smarty Jones into his care. He put Smarty to the test and thought he had something special. But then Smarty nearly died after a nasty accident with the starting gate.

Smarty’s eye and his skull recovered in a timely fashion allowing Servis to move on the next stage in his development. Once the colt showed that he’d be ready for the races, Servis studied the condition book for suitable races.

He chose November for Smarty’s unveiling, his first taste of competition. After many months of preparation, it was time to see how Smarty would respond to serious competition. He entered the Philadelphia Park starting gate, the Chapman’s home track.

The Chapmans were snowbirds and by this point they already would be in Florida. Roy, tethered to a wheelchair with an oxygen tank in tow didn’t see the harm in getting to Florida on time. The prospects of warmth sounded so good, so welcoming. But Pat had this feeling about Smarty and wanted to watch him race. Something inside her believed the colt would do something special. Call it divine inspiration or dumb luck, the

Chapman’s were not about to miss Smarty’s debut.

Trainer John Servis skeptically received Smarty Jones into his care. He put Smarty to the test and thought he had something special. Then Smarty nearly died after a nasty accident with the starting gate.

Smarty’s eye and his skull recovered in a timely fashion allowing Servis to move on the next stage in his development. Once the colt showed that he’d be ready for the races, Servis studied the condition book for suitable races.

He chose November for Smarty’s unveiling, his first taste of competition. After many months of preparation, it was time to see how Smarty would respond to serious competition. He entered the Philadelphia Park starting gate, the Chapman’s home track.

The Chapmans were snowbirds and by this point they already would be in Florida. Roy, tethered to a wheelchair with an oxygen tank in tow didn’t see the harm in getting to Florida on time. The prospects of warmth sounded so good, so welcoming. But Pat had this feeling about Smarty and wanted to watch him race. Something inside her believed the colt would do something special. Call it divine inspiration or dumb luck, the

Chapman’s were not about to miss Smarty’s debut.

On November 9, 2003, Smarty broke like a shot and rocketed straight to the lead. He set blazing fractions but it didn’t take a toll the way a hot pace can, quite the opposite; he won by daylight.

Pat couldn’t believe her eyes. She knew the talent was there; everyone knew. But he exceeded everybody’s expectations. By the time the race ended, Pat Chapman’s heart was in her throat.

Servis noted the ease with which Smarty won and entered him in a stakes, a major jump in competition and class 13 days later. Better to see now just how much zip this colt really has. Roy figured that now was a good time to head south, no need to delay any further. They had seen his maiden win and we can see him run on television in Florida. Seventy degrees in Boca Grande, or 40 in Philadelphia? Pat said, “We’re not leaving,”

Pat said. “I want to watch him race.” What could Roy do? Pat joined Servis in his box to watch the race. Roy, because of the wheelchair watched on the lower level.

Smarty took off and Servis reacted: “Oh, no, oh, no.” Smarty had run his opening quarter-mile in 21 4/5 seconds, a speed blitz. Pat wondered what Servis was seeing that she wasn’t. Can it be that he can’t carry his speed all the way to the finish?

“Oh, no, oh, no,” Servis again exclaimed; a half-mile fraction of 44 1/5 seconds. He couldn’t believe what Smarty was doing nor what he might be capable of doing. It turned out he was capable of six furlongs in 1:08 3/5 seconds. Each fraction was slower but the margin was widening.

First he was in front by five lengths, then 10, and he kept running and widening, winning by 15 lengths. Servis and Pat excitedly ran down to meet Roy, who appeared breathless from the excitement.

They all went to the winner’s circle to their undefeated colt, posed for the photographer, their smiles wider than the Walt Whitman Bridge.

“This may be our Derby horse,” Servis told them.

The trainer had just one concern left, but it was a weighty one: Smarty hadn’t raced around two turns, and horses can’t be considered Triple Crown timbre until they can handle two turns. It’s a bubble-burster. Servis needed to dampen the excited owner’s Derby aspirations sooner rather than later.

“Before we get too excited,” he told them, “we need to see if he can get two turns.” There was a race at Aqueduct in Queens, the Count Fleet Stakes, at the start of the new year. It met the bill: two turns. Smarty Jones still had something left to prove.

On January 3, 2004, Smarty broke a step slow away from the barrier and was third going into the clubhouse turn. Two horses went to the front as Smarty’s jockey, Stewart Elliott, was biding his time in third. As they turned for home, Elliott let out the reins and in a matter of strides, the team surged past the leaders and widened to a seven-length win.

It wasn’t a long race—just over a mile—but Smarty answered the two-turn question. The Kentucky Derby was now four months away. Still a dream but suddenly one that was within reach, no longer beyond the realm of possibility.

Days were short and it was cold in the northeast and it was time for Servis to consider shipping Smarty south—to Florida or Louisiana or Arkansas—where the temps would be more moderate.

The trainer began to think that Smarty was a horse of destiny. He survived what might have been a fatal injury in the starting gate. On the day the colt was to be shipped to Arkansas, four vans arrived on the backstretch to take many horses to Hot Springs. Smarty was loaded on the first van, arriving in Arkansas without incident.

The other three were caught in an ice storm in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and had to wait things out on the side of the road while Smarty was waiting for his dinner. There was something happening here and what it was seemed to be getting clearer by the day.

Servis then backed off on Smarty’s training. The colt had raced hard since November and it was smart to give him time off to rest and grow. Finally, the Southwest Stakes was approaching, a good spot on the Oaklawn calendar to get him started, letting the trainer gauge Smarty’s conditioning and development. If all went well, the Rebel Stakes would be next, then the big one, the Arkansas Derby.

Servis decided he would take the Arkansas route to Kentucky. All Smarty had to do was earn enough money in graded stakes to make the Kentucky Derby cut; only the Top 20 would make it. At that point, Smarty’s graded bank account had as much money as a college first year, which is to say nothing.

The closer Smarty got to his Oaklawn debut, the more pressing the need to sit down with the Chapmans, their enthusiasm and expectations off the charts at this juncture. “He’s probably going to lose his next race,” Servis told the owners. “He’s not 100 percent fit and the last thing we want is for him to peak too soon. He’ll probably get tired.”

Smarty Jones fatigued in the Southwest, but won anyway. Even a tiring Smarty running on 75 percent capacity proved superior to the three year olds he was facing. The entire team was as shocked as anyone by the effort, but the diminishing three-quarter length score had people question whether or not he could get the Kentucky Derby’s mile and a quarter.

It was an honest question; the Southwest was just eight furlongs, the biggest dance of all was 10 on May’s first Saturday.

A reporter approached Servis, questioning Smarty’s stamina and ability to get the Derby distance. “When this horse is done we’ll talk about him like he’s Seattle Slew,” Servis said.

“Really?” the reporter asked.

Seattle Slew was the last undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby and only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. Slew was a monster; physically dominant, imposing and with an attitude to match.
Servis thought, yeah, when this horse is done we’ll talk about him like he’s Seattle f.....g Slew.

Smarty went on to win the Rebel Stakes with ease. He was progressing yet he hadn’t peaked. And it wasn’t only about Kentucky Derby glory. Smarty Jones was in position to win a $5-million bonus offered to any horse that won the Oaklawn Park three-year-old series and the Kentucky Derby.

Despite the accolades and an undefeated 5-0 record, Smarty Jones needed to finish second or better in the Arkansas Derby to qualify for the big dance. It was the only way to ensure that he would have enough earnings. He drew the far outside post in a big field, just one more hurdle for a horse that almost died in a starting gate before he even got to the races.

Stewart Elliott, Smarty’s jockey, later admitted it was the most nervous he had been during the entire Triple Crown series. Elliott had been on Smarty since his first race and knew he was special enough to go all the way. His one and only concern was whether or not Smarty would save his speed and ration it over the course of a very long race.

The Arkansas Derby was the first $1 million-race in which Elliott had ridden. He had thousands and thousands of races of experience, but this was different. This was the big time, the majors, and he of all people sat on the most coveted horse. No doubt other jockeys and their agents would be watching, no doubt.

If Elliott choked on such a live mount he could easily get pulled for a Hall of Famer to be named later. Pressure? What pressure?

Though his mount was unbeaten, Elliott couldn’t shake the nerves. He prepared and prepared some more, checking the other horses in the field to see just how he’d have to run. Elliott knows a horse has to have ability, that’s key, but also needs versatility. Smarty was a speed demon at first but by now he had learned to rate, ration his speed, and turn it loose when Elliott floors it. But

The jock was confident. He knew that Smarty would do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted him to do it.

And that’s how Smarty and Elliott won the Arkansas Derby and went into Kentucky undefeated. He made it look so simple, like money in the bank.

Due to noisy construction at Churchill Downs, Servis elected to send Smarty to Keeneland in nearby Lexington, about an hour from Louisville. He wanted a laid back, quieter place for his colt to get settled, to come into himself prior to the biggest race of everyone’s career. He had the favorite heading into the Derby. The fewer distractions, the better. Maybe that’s what the trainer needed as well.

Damn, if only Smarty would just train better. Ever since his arrival at Keeneland he just never took to the track. Like some tennis players prefer clay to grass, Smarty didn’t adjust to Keeneland’s dirt. Of all times to be having trouble with a surface?

Smarty had raced in Pennsylvania, New York, and Arkansas, but Kentucky was throwing him off his game. All those races, all those miles, all those wins, and now he won’t train well? It’s now less than three weeks to the Derby.

Smarty’s exercise rider returned to the barn after galloping the horse and told Servis, “He’s not traveling the same, he’s not as aggressive. He doesn’t like the track.”

The skies blackened and it rained all that night. Servis went out the next morning on his pony to get a sense for how a horse might feel on the muddy terrain. He decided to send Smarty to the training track to watch him gallop. He looked fine but figured it was time to move to Churchill Downs; get him a feel for the Derby surface and construction be damned.

They arrived at Churchill and Servis let Smarty unwind. He breezed him five-eighths of a mile on the Monday before the Derby. He looked down at his stopwatch and knew his horse was just fine now. He went 58 and 2/5ths, his ears pricked the entire way.

The rider told a relieved Servis, “He’s back, and he’s better every day.”

“If we get beat, we’re getting beat by a better horse,” Servis said. But his overarching thought was that only Smarty could beat himself.

He was the best horse.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Story of Smarty Jones, Part II

After the murder of Bob Camac, the Chapmans sold off most of their horses. They kept two and one of them was Smarty Jones. He went to the farm and started showing signs of who he would become.

George Isaacs knows a good horse when he sees one and he watched a valedictorian that day. He figured Smarty could be good enough to win graded races at the sport’s highest levels—that much he knew. And who knows, maybe even something really important but he knew better than to get his hopes too high.

Isaacs knew Smarty had what it takes when Smarty dominated his paddock-mate on those sultry Florida nights. A herd isn’t a herd without followers, yet a herd craves a leader and Smarty, maybe to a fault, showed that he needed to be in front.

Isaacs called Roy: “We’ve done our assessment,” he said. “You’ve got a special horse here, a graded-stakes kind of horse. [Of course], there’s no guarantee.”

Isaacs had been in touch with a wealthy man who wanted to drop six figures on a race-ready, electric two-year-old and he respected the fact that the Chapmans still wanted out of horse racing. “Now you’re in a position to sell this horse for quite a bit of money.”

“What’s a ‘quite a bit of money?’” Chapman asked.

“I know a banker who’s looking to buy a nice colt for $250,000 to $300,000, if I recommend the colt.”

“Sounds to me like you like the horse.”

“I know the kind of horses you had in the past and I can tell you that he’s among the best you’ve ever had.”

The Chapmans did have nice horses in the past, winning their share of races, but from what Isaacs was saying, maybe hanging on to this one horse might restore their faith in a game that reminded them so much of their late friend, Bob Camac. Smarty Jones was Camac’s creation. What better way to honor his memory than to race Camac’s brain-child?

“Well, we’ll just keep him,” Chapman told Isaacs.

No doubt Roy felt pressure from his wife Pat to keep the horse. All the horses were in Pat’s name. As much as Roy enjoyed haggling on price with Isaacs, ultimately the call was Pat’s. Smarty was her horse. Roy grew his fortune as a car salesman and Pat figured Roy would like nothing more than to sell this equine automobile and move on to next year’s model. Roy tried to convince Pat to listen to offers. “There’s no need,” Pat said. “The horse is not for sale.”

Smarty traveled north for the summer. Waiting for him was his trainer John Servis, a grinder, a career horseman. Servis’ voice sounds as if it were scrubbed by sand paper. He has weathered skin, sandy blonde hair and the smile of a man hiding a secret he knows you want to know. He had received word that this Smarty Jones horse had some zip. Lots of horses have zip in the mornings but turn into morning glories by lunchtime.

Servis understood that Smarty would’ve been trained by Bob Camac, a friend on the backside at Philadelphia Park. No matter what the horse was capable of, Servis knew that his first obligation was to the Chapmans, but he’d have to train him for his late friend, too.

Servis was a relative unknown outside of the mid-Atlantic region. Still, he was no stranger to nice horses. He had three Grade 1 winners before Smarty, but it still kept him far away from the spotlight. In 2000 he trained a filly, Jostle, who was a runnerup for the Eclipse Award, racing’s highest honor. Working with Jostle taught Servis the importance of patience and good management. The more talented the horse the more calculated its racing campaigns must be.

But patience is always the key. Some rise as fast as fighter jets; others mature at about the same rate as a bamboo tree. And Servis waited a long time for Jostle. The filly looked the part but she showed little ability as a youngster. As trainers like to say, the light hadn’t come on yet.

All trainers realize that slower horses could always drop down to find their proper level, but you could win a race and lose the horse in a claiming race. But the good ones are valued for their ability but more for their DNA; a bad race depreciates them faster than one of Roy Chapmans’s automobiles. Three bad races and you usually retire them.

Talented horses require more planning, training them with specific races in mind. The training regimen is ultra-important; playing catchup never usually turns out well for the horse, his owner or his trainer.
Hearing a horse cough—or worse—could be apocalyptic.

The horse van moaned into Philadelphia Park and Servis waited patiently for the horse that Isaacs, Roy, and Pat were all raving about. Smarty walked down the gangplank of the van, Servis took one look at him and thought, what’s all the fuss about? Servis was expecting a mustang; what he got was a pinto with a bad paint job.

Servis could not have been less impressed by Smarty Jones. The colt was small, immature, barely bigger than a pony. But what did he expect, really? Horses breeze like rocket ships before they even reach the racetrack and often flame out as they mature, and it’s the trainer’s fault that the horse didn’t blossom, didn’t develop. That killed Servis, but that was part of this training game.

The sport had taught Servis to reserve judgment. They’re just horses until they prove to him otherwise.

When Servis receives what is supposed to be a nice horse, when it’s time to breeze he puts the horse on the fence, asks them for speed and requires that they learn how to fight in close quarters. He makes them feel the heat of competition because it’s nothing compared to what the horse will face in the afternoon. It’s better to find out early what you’ve got. No sense in unnecessarily drawing out hope.

Servis tacked up Smarty, fixed the bridle, and gave the rider a leg-up. The colt jogged out onto the oval and began his warm up. Servis noticed something right away, and liked what he saw: He noticed how the colt pumped himself up, growing in stature like some equine Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. That’s instinct, awareness, swagger.

Still, Servis and his assistant leaned against the rail waiting for disappointment. He can’t be that special, can he? They watched Smarty accelerate and break off. Collected with his ears pricked, his chestnut mane flapped with each stride as he breezed down the lane. He skipped over the dirt as if his feet were winged.

They looked down at their watch and looked at each other. “Wow,” said Servis’ assistant “somebody might finally be right.”

Horse are flight animals, prey. They evolved into one of the largest mammals on the planet, possessing both speed and endurance. The horse’s design works well in an open field where it can graze then outrun predators hiding in the tall grass if necessary.

Horses aren’t meant to be confined, cloistered, caged animals. And those conditions nearly killed Smarty Jones.

Time had come for Smarty to get acquainted with the starting gate, as all green, raw horses must. The gate is about as unnatural an environment as it gets for a grass-eating, prairie-grazing mammal. Its metallic jaws open on the back end and the horse slides in, its haunches rubbing up against the padded inside barriers. Directly in front of its nose is a door latched shut by magnets. It’s MRI-machine tight.

An assistant starter stands like a spider inside the gate’s metallic webbing. Atop the horse is its rider. It’s like being inside a tiny box, the metal roof wrapped in padding.

Smarty had his troubles with the starting gate. His actions indicated that he was uncomfortable from the moment he entered. He had trouble with the loading process and once inside he panicked, thrashed. In those tight quarters, Smarty reared up and smashed his head on a bar, his body rattling the cage.

The gate crew screamed and hustled over to the colt before he could do any more damage to himself. Imagine being a horse for that moment; inside its head as chaos, confusion, yelling and clanging surrounds you? Smarty collapsed after hitting his head, writhing about in the dirt with a fractured skull. His blood spilled like lava from a volcano.

The gate crew picked him up and Servis brought him back to the barn. Smarty’s eye looked terrible. Pat says the doctor who patched him up nicknamed him Quasimoto, the physically grotesque hunchback of Notre Dame. Smarty was broken but unbowed. He never missed a meal, not an oat, not a carrot. But it would force Servis to play catchup.

Instead of running in maiden allowances in the summer, he would need to wait until fall, late fall.

Servis is well aware that the incident could have killed Smarty. Hell, it nearly did kill him. But in hindsight Servis realized that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. The healing time allowed Smarty to regain his faculties while maturing mentally and growing stronger with every passing day. Instead of five or six starts as a two-year-old, he would only have two, and that would prove vital.

Freshness is important for three year old development. But that would be months away. For now, Servis was tickled that Smarty had survived and that there were no abnormalities.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

When Smarty Jones Shook the Earth

Until last weekend when the latest Kentucky Derby winner, California Chrome, shipped into Parx Racing, it had been a very long time since the old Philadelphia Park stepped onto the national stage. The first horse was a wonderful chestnut who got his start at the Bensalem Pa. track a decade ago, 2003 to be precise, when he began his career in the hometown of his owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, and his trainer, John Servis, who inherited the colt through happenstance via tragedy. The saga of Smarty Jones--from his career debut to his disappointing and controversial loss in the Belmont Stakes--has been revisited by HRI contributor Brendan O'Meara. It will appear here exclusively for the next six days. If you're unfamiliar with the story of this equine Rocky, you're in for a treat.--John Pricci, executive editor

Part 1

Bob Camac was a life-long horseman, the kind that thought 5 a.m. was sleeping in. In his sixty-one years on the planet he had memories of four Triple Crown winners—horses that won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Nobody gets into training horses thinking they’ll win the Triple Crown, but it’s always a dream with every new crop of horses. Like a dimictic lake in spring, horse racing renews itself every year.

Just as other successful horsemen do, Camac went to the horse sales, advised his clients, saddled his horses, and won horse races. He studied pedigrees and crafted recipes for success. And when it came to bloodstock, he was a wicked alchemist.

Camac had a handful of great horses over the years, but never the big horse—the runner that brings notoriety and fame, the one that makes all those early mornings worthwhile. Until then, he had to keep elevating his stock from bad into good, from good into great.

On race day, he’d report to the paddock sporting his classic Johnny Unitas flattop and aviator sunglasses above a tan suit, replete with white shirt and tie.

Over the years, Camac was supported by a series of loyal clients like the Chapmans, Roy and Patricia “Pat” Chapman. For them, Philadelphia Park was home.

After being diagnosed with emphysema, Roy was confined to a wheelchair. Life compensated by supplying Pat with a boundless energy for life. Lou Grant would say she had spunk. The Chapmans were hopelessly in love, and horses were just one of their shared passions.

The Chapmans were blue collar in the way that Kentucky is blue blood. Camac advised them on the type of horses to buy and the horses to which they should be bred. They owned several broodmares that lived at their Someday Farm and Camac found a good match for I’ll Get Along, figuring that he’d breed her to the swift miler Elusive Quality.

Now that might yield a horse worth racing. Breeding is part science, part witchcraft but mostly luck, and Camac was mad scientist enough to make it all work.

From this pairing, a small, chestnut colt was born and Pat named him Smarty Jones, recalling her mother’s nickname. Smarty grew alongside his mother and wasn’t anything special at first, just a cute, twerpy foal; all knees and with the kind of energy that enabled him to buck in the paddock as if he had pogo-sticks for legs.

Camac just watched him, let him develop, and looked forward to training him one day; Someday, just like the farm.

On the morning of December 6, 2001, Camac awoke at his Salem County house in Oldmans Township in southern New Jersey, an easy drive to nearby Philadelphia Park where he trained his string. The sun had just come up, and Camac and Mayrann, his wife, sat on the porch feeling the chilly air on their faces.

Later that morning Wade Russell, Camac’s stepson and Maryann’s biological son, arrived at the property. He carried a shotgun in his hands as he approached the trainer and his wife. There had been a confrontation earlier and Russell was indeed intent on solving it.

Dennis Tanchak, one of Camac’s clients, had decided to move his wife’s horses from Camac’s stable to a smaller one. Camac had no problem with that; he simply wanted payment of $13,426, Tanchak’s outstanding balance for trainer’s fees.

Tanchak was confused. He said he paid. Camac said, no, he hadn’t received the check. Tanchak said to wait, that he’d run to the barn and grab a copy of the cleared check. Tanchak later handed the copy to Camac and the trainer’s face turned white.

Indeed, the stamp on the back of the check was Camac’s. The problem was that the signature on the back wasn’t his. The two spoke a few moments about who might have cashed the check.

Camac grabbed his briefcase and got up to leave. “I know who did it.”

It was Russell who stood before Camac with a shotgun leveled at the trainer’s chest. It was Russell, caught by his own family. And that wasn’t the extent of it. Russell had taken two other checks totaling $17,753 that had yet to be cashed.

There was no escaping the porch that, at the moment, was frozen in time. Life as they all knew it had changed. There they were, all of them trapped: Camac and Maryann by Russell, Russell by his crimes.

Imagine the fear. Imagine the pleading, imploring for reason, to no avail. Russell took aim and discharged the shotgun shooting Camac in the heart. Russell fired multiple shots at his mother, leaving both prone, red, lying on the back porch while horses grazed in a nearby paddock.

One of Camac’s farm hands ran three-quarters of a mile down the road to the Musumeci farm yelling for help. Anthony Musumeci and his son raced to the Camac property in their pickup trucks. They found Camac and Maryann on the porch. They called 9-1-1 at 8:34 a.m. The ambulance arrived, but it was a futile exercise.

State police stood guard at the gates of Camac’s farm keeping spectators away from the crime scene on the other side of the road. Otherwise, it was an ordinary morning in the rural countryside of southern New Jersey.

Horses grazed in the chill of a December morning. The only noise came from the cars humming along Interstate 295.

Almost without exception, people spoke fondly of Camac. They talked about a man who enjoyed the inquisitiveness of others, how their coming to him for advice made him feel needed, wanted, respected. Others commended his incredible horsemanship; his peers rarely claimed horses from him for fear that they couldn’t improve on his methodology because he had them spotted properly and was already getting the best the horses had to offer.

When the Chapmans learned that Camac had been murdered, they began soul searching, questioning whether or not they should leave the sport. It’s a game of black eyes and headaches, heartbreak and heartburn that no amount of antacid could cure. The Chapmans reached a point where they were looking for reasons to stay in, not get out.

Camac’s owners began spreading their horses among other trainers but the Chapmans thought it best for them to sell, getting out of this blasted game. Bob Camac was their trainer: No Camac, no horses.

Pat kept Camac’s number in her address book for some time after his demise. Roy finally made a decision. “Let’s get out of the business,” he said to Pat. Returning to the track would be a painful reminder of the tragedy.

They still had some broodmares and were in possession of two yearling colts: one by Halo’s Image, the other already named. He was Smarty Jones.

Roy called George Isaacs of Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Florida. Isaacs breaks yearlings and Roy wanted Isaacs to prepare the colts for racing or whatever came next. Isaacs also was also grief-stricken over the murder of Camac. He understood why the Chapmans might want to get out of the business. Roy asked Isaacs to sell both horses.

“It’s very difficult to sell them from Pennsylvania,” Isaacs told him. “Send them to Florida and I’ll roll up my sleeves.”

That January, the unnamed colt and Smarty Jones became yearlings but were still bluegrass green. Smarty was small but he would begin to bloom later in his yearling season.

The two colts had been together at Chapman’s farm up north so, Isaacs thought, why split them up? Smarty’s mate was a big colt, impressive to the eye, unlike Smarty. A runt, he wasn’t much to look at and failed to fire the imagination.

The two colts shared the same paddock each night at the Isaacs place. They ran around each other, into each other, away from each other, typical yearling behaviour. But when Isaacs checked on them in the morning, he noticed the unnamed colt came back littered with bite marks. He laughed. Smarty was kicking his mate’s ass in the paddock all night long.

Years with horses informed Isaacs that Smarty was undoubtedly the alpha male. Physical size had little to do with the giant residing within.

Smarty’s attitude commanded Isaacs’ attention. He saw that Smarty had a grace about him with a long, good-moving walk to match. Both were nice yearlings, he thought, but Smarty possessed DiMaggio-like fluidity of motion.

Equine athletes of a higher order advertise their abilities as easily as taking a breath: Like a baseball exploding off the bat; the good-moving race horse sounds different. They reach full speed in a matter of three bounds, just floating over the ground. Isaacs called Roy: “If I were you, do me this courtesy and let me train them up and sell them as two-year-olds.”

When they were ready for serious training, Isaacs escorted the colts to the track. He was anxious to see their speed work, gauge their ability, see what kind of money each might command. The Chapmans still were disinterested with horse racing, but they were about to be influenced by the kind of speed that takes one’s breath away.

When Isaacs tacked up Smarty, he inflated like a Roman gladiator. Isaacs watched them train. The unnamed colt was all knees and elbows, his legs failing to launch him into the rarified stratosphere of a good horse. He couldn’t get out of his own way. Horses are honest and they show their stripes early. Isaacs told the Chapmans that the unnamed colt would make a fine show horse, maybe a hunter jumper.

There were a hundred horses being broken that winter of 2003 and Smarty quickly asserted himself as the premier horse of that class. He carried his athleticism confidently. He was fluid, leaning forward, always on the bit but almost always wanting to do more. Smarty bowed his neck, put his head down and appeared to want to tug his rider into infinity.

At his core, Smarty’s mindset was to run and train hard. His limits were boundless. He had one speed; go. Isaacs recognized this and began the throttling down process.

As March became April, time had come for Smarty to breeze, nothing fancy, a simple work designed to expand the lungs and begin the conditioning regimen. Isaacs thought a quarter-mile would do, nice and easy, maybe a couple of furlongs in 27, 28. A two-minute lick would be plenty.

Smarty left the barn tacked up, the bit in his mouth, reins draping from the rings and threaded through the rider’s hands. Isaacs watched Smarty closely. The colt’s stride began short, more of a jog than anything. He gradually picked up speed and when he neared the quarter-pole, he broke off and Isaacs started his watch.


Smarty turned over his hooves at a rate Isaacs rarely sees. The rider had him in a chokehold, irons down, feet squarely on the dashboard, as the horsemen say. Isaacs couldn’t believe what he saw. The colt breezed with the grace of a prima ballerina, in total control, owning the athleticism of his body. He looked like he was going five seconds slower but the watch doesn’t lie.


Isaacs looked at his watch: 23 4/5 seconds.



Written by Brendan O'Meara

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