Smarty Jones’ bid at the Triple Crown ended just a length short. Years later, the memory remains, and so too does Smarty’s resonant effect on the world of horse racing.

Four years later Big Brown was a live threat to win the Triple Crown. The memory of Smarty’s run was still fresh in everyone’s mind. He was the last horse that had a chance to do it.

Pat Forde, an ESPN.com senior writer then, wrote a piece titled “Ganging up on favorite isn’t unimaginable at Belmont.”

The idea is sinister. It’s sporting sacrilege. But it’s a question that needs to be asked.

Would someone actually enter the Belmont Stakes with the intention of making massive favorite Big Brown lose the Triple Crown rather than with the intention of seeing his own horse win?

Smarty Jones’ bid at the Triple Crown ended just a length short. Years later, the memory remains, and so too does Smarty’s resonant effect on the world of horse racing.

Four years later Big Brown was a live threat to win the Triple Crown. The memory of Smarty’s run was still fresh in everyone’s mind. He was the last horse that had a chance to do it. Pat Forde, an ESPN.com senior writer then, wrote a piece titled “Ganging up on favorite isn’t unimaginable at Belmont.”

The idea is sinister. It’s sporting sacrilege. But it’s a question that needs to be asked.

Would someone actually enter the Belmont Stakes with the intention of making massive favorite Big Brown lose the Triple Crown rather than with the intention of seeing his own horse win?

Forde harkened back to Smarty Jones. “Roy Chapman, owner of the last horse to arrive in New York with a shot to win the Triple Crown, Smarty Jones, went to his grave in 2006 convinced that Smarty’s ’04 Belmont defeat was a setup. He believed elite jockeys Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis engaged in suicidal tactics designed to make the big horse fail.

“I never saw two riders ride so hard to lose a race in my life,” Chapman growled one week after his colt lost the Crown in deep stretch to Birdstone. “They just were out for one thing: making sure Smarty didn’t win.”

Hennig, trainer to Eddington, the horse who burned the most out of Smarty Jones down the backside, said, “Nowhere is it written in the rules that if a horse is going for the Triple Crown, everyone should just let him do as he pleases.”

Bailey never rode Eddington again. There’s a saying that some trainers, who are confident in their riders, tell their jocks ride the horse like you own it. “Ride your horse like you own it and the rent’s due,” like Servis told Elliott.

It appeared Bailey took too many liberties in that regard. On the day of the Calder Derby later in 2004, Eddington needed a rider and Bailey was available, but he didn’t get the mount from Hennig.

Servis thought that story made perfect sense. That sums it up. He even heard that Hennig wanted to kill Bailey after that Belmont, something Hennig either failed to remember or didn’t care to.

Rick Dutrow, trainer of Big Brown, said leading up to the 2008 Belmont, “I think that the connections of Smarty Jones were not smart in order to get their job done for the Belmont. They should have played it a lot safer, a lot better.”

Dutrow also criticized Elliott’s ride in the Preakness, “I also feel he did not need to win the way he did in the Preakness to get to the Belmont.”

Elliott tapped Smarty once at the top of the stretch. He accelerated in a hand ride while the other horses backed up. It wasn’t as taxing as it might have looked. “He handled [the Preakness] great,” Servis told a reporter. “[Smarty] licked the tub dry.”

Elliott took the slings and arrows in stride. He remembered Dutrow saying those nasty things. Elliott was convinced that Smarty won the Preakness easily. He thought they were in good shape for the Belmont. He didn’t overdo it. You get beat on a favorite and people boo you. That’s how it goes. It’s part of the game.

Other jockeys came out in support of Elliott, Servis, and Smarty. One said, “I have been a jockey for seventeen years and have always had a lot of respect for Jerry Bailey. His ride in the Belmont Stakes, however, on a live contender, was a disgrace to horse racing. Bailey sacrificed himself only to beat Smarty Jones and jockey Stewart Elliott.”

Steve Haskin, a writer for Blood-Horse magazine, noted, “They apparently were on a suicide mission, targeting Smarty Jones at the expense of their own mounts … By the time Smarty neared the quarter pole, he was rolling on the lead, increasing his margin with every stride. The crowd, now in a frenzy, never noticed the mile and a quarter fraction of 2:00.52, which would have won every Kentucky Derby but four.

“When Smarty vanned to Belmont Park, three helicopters hovered overhead. Motorcycle police escorts arrived. But, like Zito said earlier in the Triple Crown season in reference to his own horses, “Great expectations bring great disappointment.”
///

Smarty Jones sired his first Grade 1 winner in 2013 after starting his breeding career in 2005. Horses have a limited shelf life to prove themselves as a stallion. They have until their first crop of three-year-old colts or fillies. After that major breeding operations grow impatient. As brilliant as Smarty was on the racetrack, his offspring never quite lived up to expectations.

Nobody knew that in 2004, although there may have been signs. His sire, Elusive Quality, was a miler. His broodmare sire, Smile, was a champion sprinter. Stamina just wasn’t in Smarty’s chomosomes.

After the 2004 Preakness, major breeding operations in Kentucky beat down the Chapman’s door. The Chapmans had the Derby and Preakness winner. The Chapmans, sensing they were in deep water, turned to their long-time friend George Isaacs, the man who broke Smarty as a yearling and two-year-old, to help broker any deals.

It might have started 30 minutes before the Derby when Clay approached Roy during the post parade. When they met that planted roots, roots that could bear fruit later.

Isaacs felt the deal was easy since they sat on the horse everybody wanted. The Chapmans wanted to keep half the horse. It was more than just money; it was about finding the right fit for their horse.

Representatives from all the major farms flew in to Philadelphia. They met at Philadelphia International Airport: all 10 of them. The Chapmans were out of their element but they had Isaacs, their ace in the hole. During the negotiations, Roy took Pat aside and told her, “Pat, it’s your horse. I’m not going to help you make your decision. You’re going to live with the decision longer than I am. I don’t have long.”

Said Isaacs: “You want to talk to as many as possible, hear what they have in mind. You will decide whether to breed three hundred mares or limit his book size.” Isaacs spoke to Clay, “Robert, you called first. Because you did I’ll allow you the courtesy of being first, middle, or last.”

“I’d like to be first out of the block,” Clay replied.

It came down to Three Chimneys, Lane’s End, and Darley. Clay knew that sending your Derby winner to a breeding farm is like sending your child to boarding school. Personal relationships matter.

Smarty was on Clay’s radar after his impressive win in the Arkansas Derby. After that race, he could tell that Smarty could be a good horse; the Kentucky Derby confirmed that. Clay liked that Smarty wasn’t too big either. He’d be a nice size to suit a lot of mares. Smarty’s pedigree was questionable but he came within a length of winning the Triple Crown. He was worth the risk.

WinStar offered $25 million, a bit low, but had a list of intangibles, Isaacs thought. They would buy a group of mares to support the horse, maybe $10 million worth of mares. Lane’s End offered close to $40 million, but they had too many stallions for the Chapmans’ liking. It was public-university-big vs. liberal-arts-college-small.

Isaacs watched as Three Chimneys and Darley dueled. Darley was looking to make inroads into North American stallions but Three Chimneys was established. They had experience with Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner. And they had relatively few stallions compared to some other operations that had several dozen. Three Chimneys went up to $39 million and the deal was done.

Smarty was sliced into 60 shares with the Chapmans retaining half. The Chapmans also wanted easy access and visitation rights. Smarty was so important to so many people, his mythology and his legend so grand, that accessibility was of paramount importance to them.

By August 5, 2004, all the shares were sold. Twenty shares went out at $650,000 a share. Three Chimneys held 10. The big shock would be his stud fee: $100,000. Isaacs knew it was a bit inflated but based on the price of his syndication, Three Chimneys needed to reflect that investment.

Smarty’s progeny needed to run; run fast and run fast often. They did the first two but failed to graduate to graded-stakes level.

When a horse commands that kind of value, the pressure is on. It used to be a horse had three years and three crops. These days, it’s far less forgiving. The fuse is lit and the dynamite had better ignite. Clay even gave Smarty a longer tenure as a top sire, hoping his crops would come around.

Japan offered to buy him but Pat wouldn’t hear of it. By now, her husband had passed, but Roy’s words stuck with her, that she would have to live with the decision forever. Pat would always keep Smarty.

Again and again, Smarty’s offspring failed to advance beyond a basic stakes level. Maybe, if he was washed up in Kentucky, he could come home to Pennsylvania. Like Odysseus’ long road back to Greece, Smarty would be back where it all began, back when he was the vision of the late Bob Camac’s eye and where the Chapmans nearly gave horse racing the pink slip.

Smarty had the will to win on the racetrack. But breeding is molecular, the fusion of X and Y chromosomes, and how they arrange those nucleotides determines if one horse has innate ability over another. Smarty’s heart was uniquely his own to keep.

Smarty Jones was beloved, such a gritty son of a gun on the track, that he was a testament to his legacy. It’s why some very smart businessmen bought into Smarty as a stallion.

When Pat saw his book size shrinking and she was losing money, she reached out to Clay and said, “I can’t afford this… and neither can Smarty.”

Clay read the writing on the wall and probably stayed in longer than he normally would have because Smarty came within eight feet of a Triple Crown.

Clay and Pat contacted Carl McEntee of Northview Stallions in Pennsylvania. McEntee knew that Kentucky bloodstock was a very here-and-now kind of business. They grant you favor until your two-year-olds hit the track and if your three-year-olds aren’t running, they’re onto the next big thing and there’s always a next big thing.

Smarty Jones came back to Philadelphia, his Odyssey complete. He became the flag bearer for the Pennsylvania breeding program, Act 71, that allowed for expanded gaming in the state which, as a result, led to higher purses and state-bred incentives on the racetrack.

McEntee said that when Smarty made his return, 3,500 people turned out to see the returning hero. The local breeder walked through the parking lot just to see the license plates. People came across five states just to get within a length of Smarty. He was humbled by the experience, realizing just how much the horse touched people.

To this day the farm receives Christmas presents, birthday cards, and emails from Smarty’s fans. McEntee reads them all; inspiring messages from people who owe their love of horse racing to the undersized horse with an oversized heart, a horse that shook the earth.