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 Thoroughbred bred. The first horse to pull off that feat 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 training of the colt by happenstance via tragedy. The saga of Smarty Jones, from his career debut to his disappointing and controversial loss as he attempted to complete his Triple Crown quest, has been revisited by HRI contributor Brendan O'Meara and 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
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.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
The Triple Crown Strikes Back
The new year is fast approaching, as they always do, faster with every year. We are riding a turbulent ascent toward May 3rd. This is the second year of the Kentucky Derby Points System. Hard to believe it’s only the second year of this system, controversial as it was and is.
Add to that the New York Racing Association bumped the purse to the Belmont Stakes 50 percent to $1.5 million. An argument can be made that the Triple Crown races are so prestigious that they need no purse increase. Twenty horses will start the Kentucky Derby if they were running for nothing more than two free movie passes.
As it stands, the Derby sits at $2 million, the Preakness at $1.5 million and the Belmont at $1.5 million. That’s all well and good. These three races in five weeks are an ideal narrative building window, or the continuation thereof.
The Triple Crown, in essence, is the middle movie in a blockbuster trilogy. It leaves us with the most uncertainty and, by the end, leaves us gripping the couch cushions saying, “Darth Vadar was once capable of intercourse!”
Written by Brendan O'Meara