I watched the race from atop a chair in the restaurant at which I worked. I told my tables that, to loosely reference “Good Will Hunting,” ‘I had to see about a colt.”
It was the 2004 Belmont Stakes. That’s right. Smarty Jones. This guy had no problem getting 10 furlongs. In all honesty, he had no problem getting 12 furlongs.
Right now he’s having a hard time getting laid.
Once upon a time his stud fee was $100,000. When Birdstone, the horse who beat him in the Belmont Stakes, went to stud he sold his swimmers for $10,000. Paul Krugman take note: don’t follow the Dow, follow Smarty’s stud fee.
Who would have thought that Smarty Jones — winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes — would be a bargain just six years into his breeding career? Ten grand for Elusive Quality-type bloodline? Just ask Quality Road’s backers if they like the world’s best miler.
Breeding champions ain’t fast food. There’s no drive-up window. However at 10,000 clams, that’s a value meal and Smarty’s majority owner, Pat Chapman, aims to get this disciple of Rocky Balboa back to the state that throws batteries at Dallas Cowboy wide outs.
"I want him in Pennsylvania," Chapman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "It just depends on [finding the right farm] and the right partners, work out some financial things. I would like to see it happen."
Smarty Jones has sired 23 more winners than Birdstone but what Birdstone had was one of those freakishly good years that makes him look like, well, a stud. Think of how serendipitous Birdstone’s 2009 “Big Three” ran. First Stone Legacy finishes second to Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks. Then the gelding Mine That Bird gets the ballsiest ride and water-skied over the mud to beat far classier horses in the Derby. His best finish has been second in the Preakness. He hasn’t been close since. And yes, Summer Bird was a monster to win the Belmont, gets second in the Haskell, wins the Travers, wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and finishes a challenging fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What’s to keep Smarty Jones from having the same fortune?
In a way, he already has.
In Japan Smarty sired his first millionaire, the filly Keiai Gerber. The Japanese love a good horse —whether on the track or on their dinner plates — and they are pitching harder than Roger Clemens to get Smarty to settle in the Land of the Rising Sun.
"The Japanese really, really want him," Chapman said. "We've turned down some nice offers from Japan. I keep saying, 'No, he's not leaving the country.' "
As far as horse racing goes, Smarty Jones is an American Hero. You know who goes to Japan? Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, Bobby Valentine, and Ferdinand. Each of their careers has been toasted.
What’s the worst that can happen for Smarty Jones if he moves back to Pennsylvania? Perhaps he gets inferior mares. I don’t see Rags to Riches being hauled to the Keystone State, but then again he is the Derby winner and came a length away from winning the Triple Crown.
This is a story right out of Rocky. He was the underdog (in spirit, not at the windows) and a people’s champ once. He’s blue collar through and through. Let the Kentucky Boys have their A.P. Indy and their Ivan Drago’s. We’ll take Smarty back with our black coffee and steal-toe boots because he’s one of us.
Give him a pair of Wrangler jeans, four Red Wing boots, and we’ll sing “Glory Days” till at the mooooooon.
Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.