ESPN Horse Racing

Smarty is good and great
By Jeremy Plonk
Special to

Editor's Note: Jeremy wrote this response to Bill Finley's article on Smarty Jones' greatness.

Bill, Bill, Bill. Perhaps it's that Boston Red Sox fan in you? You're so starved and jaded for a champion that you fear embracing one before the final out.

Smarty Jones
Smarty Jones and jockey Stewart Elliott cross the wire first in the Kentucky Derby.
Rest easy, my BoSox friend. There are no Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone home runs coming from New York in this case. Even Bill Buckner can field this simple groundball. Smarty Jones brings you the title you crave - that of a great champion.

Bob Baffert and Bobby Frankel have already heaped praise upon Smarty's small but strong shoulders. Gary Stevens said he felt as though he was chasing Secretariat in the Preakness. Heck, Ron Turcotte - the jockey of "Big Red" himself - said Smarty Jones will win the Belmont by 25 lengths.

The only faction left to belittle the accomplishments of Smarty Jones is the core of disgruntled gamblers who've twice lost money on the surest thing since the J-Lo/Ben Affleck breakup. Had Smarty Jones prepped in the Wood Memorial and dusted that cast of contenders, he would have been 3-to-5 in the Derby and anointed sainthood before they tuned the first note of "My Old Kentucky Home" on May 1. New Yorkers would have claimed him as one of their own.

Smarty's biggest mistake is that he is not trained by a household name and did not hail from New York or California. Had his 105 Beyer Speed Figure been achieved in the Hollywood Futurity and not the Pennsylvania Nursery, scribes would have created a Smarty Jones Watch on from January 1-May 1.

And why does a horse have to beat elders in order to be mentioned among the "greats"? Our cynical society will only rush to trample the reputations of the existing elders when a new sheriff comes along. Cigar beat the same hapless bunch, they said. Azeri cake-walked over the same California slug mares, they cried. Barry Bonds can only out-homer Babe Ruth because of steroids, they say now, holding onto hope while bemoaning modern accomplishment.

All in the name of what? Protecting the innocence of their youth and days gone by? Can I get a big, fat puh-leeeeeze from the congregation?

Smarty Jones does not have to beat Southern Image, Medaglia d'Oro and Pleasantly Perfect to be considered "great". His Preakness time over the very same Pimlico racetrack clocked two lengths faster than Southern Image's Pimlico Special, despite carrying six more pounds than his elder benchmark. Medaglia d'Oro is 1-for-7 at the classic distance of 1-1/4 miles and has won three Grade 1 races: the Donn, Whitney and Travers. Sorry, that's not Derby, Preakness, Belmont in any racing parlance. And, Pleasantly Perfect became the ultimate standard of the elder generation by winning exactly two major races by age six. The Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup carry rich price tags and are difficult events to capture; but again, I'll take Derby, Preakness and Belmont in any trophy bartering.

Pardon me for not buying into the whole "you have to do something extraordinary to be great" argument. Azeri's eighth-place finish in the Met Mile must now insure that she can never be considered a great racehorse, just a pretty nice mare. That logic just does not jive with me.

Keep in mind: Whirlaway lost his first two starts against older horses after the '41 Triple Crown sweep; Seattle Slew dropped his first attempt against older horses in the Patterson Handicap; Affirmed failed in his first two starts against elders in the Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup; and the heaven-forbid-if-you-ever-criticize Secretariat could not tackle Onion in his first try versus elders in that year's Whitney Handicap.

What those "great" champions had in their favor was supreme talent and future chances to prove themselves against older horses. Smarty Jones won't have that luxury. Today's society won't give Smarty Jones a free pass following the Triple Crown. With one loss, he'll be banished to "nice story, not a great horse" quicker than you can say "Bensalem, Pennsylvania".

Don't let the cynics crush what you've seen with your own eyes. Enjoy greatness. It comes along only so often.

Finley: Smarty is good, but is he great?

McNamara: No rival for Smarty Jones?