Prado apologetic after upsetting Smarty Jones
By Beth Harris
NEW YORK -- For jockey Edgar Prado, his upset of Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes lacked some of the joy that usually comes with victory.
One of Prado's first reactions? An apology to Smarty Jones' trainer, John Servis, and the rest of his team.
"I'm very sorry for Mr. Servis and all the connections for Smarty Jones, but I had to do my job," Prado said. "This is part of the business, and I'm very sorry it had to be me."
The rest of Birdstone's camp felt badly, too, from trainer Nick Zito to owner Marylou Whitney.
"It's sad because Smarty is great for racing," said Zito, who won the Belmont for the first time in 12 tries. "We've all become fans of Smarty Jones. He will still go down as one of the greats now."
Boos rang out from the record crowd of 120,139 when Birdstone returned to the winner's circle, just like last year after Empire Maker spoiled Funny Cide's Triple try.
Prado knows something about stunning upsets. He won his first Belmont in 2002 aboard Sarava, a 70-1 shot who spoiled War Emblem's Triple Crown try.
Smarty became known as the "people's horse" because of his humble pedigree, his roots at small-time Philadelphia Park and his down-to-earth trainer, jockey Stewart Elliott and owners Pat and Roy Chapman.
Birdstone comes from the ritzy side of town. The bay colt was bred in Kentucky by Whitney, whose family has been in racing for three generations. His sire, Grindstone, won the 1996 Belmont.
Whitney presides over an 88-acre breeding farm in Lexington, Ky. Her late husband, C.V. Whitney, won the Belmont in 1947 and 1951.
"I'm sorry, sorry, sorry Smarty Jones couldn't win," she said. "We do love Smarty, and I think Smarty Jones has done more for the racing community and people who love horses. It gives everyone the chance to think, 'This could happen to me.' "
Her husband, John Hendrickson, added: "We do feel horrible."
Whitney seemed shaken by the booing as she clutched a small bouquet of white carnations in the winner's circle.
"Maybe they'll start loving Birdstone," she said.
Birdstone ran the grueling 1 1/2 miles in 2:27.50 and paid $74, $14 and $8.60.
The colt won last year's Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old at Belmont. Early this year, he was touted as one of the top 3-year-olds. But he tailed off in March, finishing fifth in the Lanes End at Turfway Park.
Birdstone lost more luster with an eighth-place showing in the Kentucky Derby, where one of his shoes fell off on the muddy track.
Zito never lost faith; he simply adjusted his game plan.
"You have to just keep working hard and something might happen," he said.
Zito kept Birdstone out of the Preakness, and the colt spent the last three weeks training at Belmont.
"Smarty Jones is still pretty good, but this horse is bred for the distance," Prado said. "The time between races had him nice and fresh. I was very comfortable all the way around. I had a feeling he would run a real good race after the Derby. I feel happy and sad at the same time because we are really looking for a champion."
Zito had finished second five times in his hometown race. His other horse, Royal Assault, was third Saturday.
"I feel great," he said later.