Team Smarty takes loss hard but graciously
by Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The ride of their lives ended in shock, silence and tears.
Roy Chapman stood up from his wheelchair from the start of the Belmont Stakes and held his hand to his mouth as Smarty Jones raced down the backstretch, seemingly in command just a few strides from winning the elusive Triple Crown.
Trainer John Servis stood a few feet away, his face drained of color.
In the box in front of the Chapmans, their grandson curled in his parents' arms and wept.
He wasn't the only one weeping at Belmont Park on Saturday. The roars of more than 120,000 fans turned into a hushed stillness and the eyes of more than a few fans, young and old, glistened with tears.
Team Smarty -- the unpretentious Philadelphians who gave the nation the gift of a great horse and a grand chase -- took his first defeat hard but graciously.
Roy Chapman cursed quietly to himself when the race ended, Birdstone surging past Smarty Jones to win by a length. Then he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Can't win 'em all." He held back tears, but his eyes were moist.
"I'm disappointed, but the better horse won today," Pat Chapman said.
Almost everyone at Belmont, even Team Smarty's rivals, wanted to see Smarty Jones end the 26-year drought of Triple Crown champions.
It wasn't the money. Many of the fans who had made Smarty Jones a 3-10 favorite, the shortest odds in the Belmont since Spectacular Bid in 1979, didn't even plan on cashing in their tickets if he won. These would be souvenirs, a reminder of something special.
"It was one emotional thing," Nick Zito, Birdstone's trainer, said. "It's sad because Smarty is great for racing."
Winning jockey Edgar Prado felt the same way.
"I'm very sorry, of course," he said, "but I had to do my job, that's what I'm paid for. I'm very sorry that I had to win."
Winners rarely feel that way, but this day and this horse and this Team Smarty were different.
Their story captured everyone's imagination -- the horse that had a brush with death, a trainer who was murdered, the jockey with a troubled past, the despairing owners who nearly got out of racing but decided to hang on with this smallish, but improbably strong chestnut colt.
They were all of common stock, nowhere near the social status of Birdstone's owner, the glamorously attired and round-voweled socialite Marylou Whitney of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
She knew, too, how much everyone was pulling for Smarty and how much the sport could have used the boost of a Triple Crown winner.
"I'm sorry, sorry, sorry Smarty Jones couldn't win," Whitney 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."
Smarty Jones inspired thousands of fans of all ages to write letters and e-mails. His story touched millions more as he went from nowhere to Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion.
One close loss in the most grueling of the Triple Crown races, a 1 1/2 -mile test of endurance, does not make him, or the team behind him, any less endearing.
His run deserved smiles, but his perfect record has been punctured, the chance at history lost. For that, Belmont seemed a sad place Saturday.
"It's tough," Servis said. "We had a shot to make big history here. We didn't do it. We've had a great year. I'm not going to put my head down. We accomplished a lot. Our main goal was to get to the Derby. I'm really proud of what we got done. I'm proud of the whole team. Everybody needs to be happy. They don't need to be sad."