Smarty Jones earns largest payoff ever for race win
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
LOUISVILLE -- The best horse doesn't always win the Kentucky Derby, yet the best story often does. On Saturday, they were one and the same, as Smarty Jones, the sentimental favorite as well as the betting favorite, produced as improbable a happy ending as the great race has ever had.
Someday finally arrived on a sloppy track at rain-soaked Churchill Downs, when Stewart Elliott rode a perfect race to become the first jockey to win his Derby debut since Ronnie Franklin with Spectacular Bid in 1979. It gets better. Not only did Chapman and his wife and partner, Patricia, take America's most coveted prize after two decades in the horse business, but they also won a $5-million bonus from Oaklawn Park for sweeping the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. Throw in the $854,800 Derby winner's share, and you can say these old folks had a pretty good day. And you figured that last year's improbable saga of Funny Cide couldn't be topped.
After Smarty Jones crossed the finish line 2¾ lengths ahead of Lion Heart, Servis whooped and hugged the stunned and overjoyed Chapman, who said, "I don't believe it."
Neither could Elliott, a 39-year-old native of Toronto who has been Pennsylvania's leading rider the past three years. "I can't believe how good it feels," he said after pulling up Smarty Jones. "It's magnificent. I'm so happy for John Servis and Mr. and Mrs. Chapman for sticking with me. They could have gotten any other rider."
Roy Chapman suffers from emphysema, so there was concern about the stress of traveling from his Florida home to watch his equine child in perhaps the most emotional sporting event in the world. Smarty Jones and Elliott did their best to keep Chapman's angst to a minimum. Only Smarty Jones and Lion Heart did any running, and turning into the stretch it was clear that Smarty Jones was going to shoot past the speedy California shipper, and nothing was happening behind them.
Mike Smith, Lion Heart's rider, had no excuses and no regrets. "I had a great trip and every opportunity to beat him, but Smarty Jones just had another gear today. Going into the far turn, I was still sitting pretty comfortable. I looked at the big telescreen and saw Smarty Jones coming, and I thought I could try to steal away. We just got beat by a better horse today."
Transplanted Frenchman Patrick Biancone felt vindicated in defeat. "We are very happy," said Biancone, who was trying for the first Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-Kentucky Derby training double. "[Lion Heart] stayed the trip. He ran a big race. I have great respect for the winner. He's a champion. I hope, if everything goes well, in two weeks we can get revenge. Perhaps we can have an Affirmed-Alydar rivalry."
Imperialism, trained by 21-year-old Kristin Mulhall, closed for third, 3¼ lengths behind Lion Heart and two in front of 41-1 shot Limehouse. The Cliff's Edge was fifth of 18 and never prominent, 12½ lengths behind. Tapit failed to handle the wet track and came in ninth. The three horses that didn't race in April were rusty, with Read the Footnotes, Birdstone and Friends Lake seventh, eighth and 15th, respectively.
Smarty Jones was the 15th horse to enter the Derby unbeaten and only the fifth to win, and he and Lil E. Tee, in 1992, are the only Pennsylvania-breds to take it. The son of Elusive Quality paid $10.20 for his seventh victory after running 1¼ miles in a rather slow 2:04.06 in the first Derby run on an off track since Go for Gin's triumph in 1994. The exacta returned $65.20, the trifecta came back $987.60 and the superfecta was a monstrous $41,380.20.
All of those numbers are minuscule compared to the $5.8 million payday that vaulted Smarty Jones to sixth on the all-time earnings list with a bankroll of more than $6.7 million. All this for a colt that had no graded-stakes money before the Arkansas Derby. He already has earned more than all 11 winners of the Triple Crown, and he's just getting started.
"I'm kind of numb right now," Patricia Chapman said. "It's been an incredible journey."
As expected, Lion Heart immediately grabbed the lead, and Smarty Jones was smack in the middle of a five-horse pack strung out behind the front-runner entering the first turn. Smarty Jones was in a bit tight for a few strides, and Elliott and Servis were concerned. "It was kind of bunched up a little bit into the first turn, but it turned out OK," Elliott said.
Smith sent Lion Heart through quick fractions, getting a quarter mile in :22.99 and a half mile in :46.73. Smarty Jones settled comfortably behind him down the backstretch, and Elliott's confidence kept growing as Lion Heart passed the six-furlong marker in 1:11.80.
"At the three-eighths pole, I was just biding my time," Elliott said. "I knew I had a loaded gun and that I could take Lion Heart at any time. I was just worried if anything was coming from behind me."
There wasn't, and like most Derby winners, with a furlong to go, Smarty Jones had the lead and was home free. The colt whose pedigree and competition were questioned suddenly was a world celebrity. The path of least resistance through Arkansas led directly to a blanket of roses beneath the Twin Spires.
"All my life I hoped to be here with a horse at the Derby," Servis, 45, said, "but I didn't know if I ever would. When he started to pull away at the eighth pole, I remembered what Bob Baffert said to me the other day. He told me 'John, when that happens, you get a feeling you never forget for the rest of your life.'
"When Smarty started to draw off, if my knees weren't buckling so much, I think I would have just jumped right out of the box."
Roy Chapman, who made his money as an automobile dealer, reflected on all the cheap horses he and his wife bred and owned. "We had a lot of ham-and-eggers," he said, "but sometimes you can cheer just as loud and get just as excited about winning a $10,000 claimer as a stakes. But we never raced at this level until Smarty came along. To have bred him and had him born on your farm, it's something.
" . . . He is from Philly and I'm very proud of everything he's done."
Philadelphia is a major market with a provincial mentality and a bit of an inferiority complex. In 1980, when the Phillies finally won the World Series, a front-page headline in the tabloid Daily News said, "We Win!" This year Philly dreamed that Saint Joseph's basketball team would be an undefeated champion, but the Hawks lost twice after a 26-0 start and fell in the NCAA Tournament. Smarty Jones has restored civic pride.
A famous son of The City of Brotherly Love was comedian W.C. Fields. In the 1939 movie "My Little Chickadee," Fields' character, Cuthbert J. Twillie, is about to be hung, and the hangman asks if he has a last request. "I'd like to see Paris before I die," Fields says. As the noose is put around his neck, he says, "Philadelphia will do."
Thanks to Smarty Jones, Philly couldn't be doing any better.