Smarty loses. Now what?
By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com
On national television before the Belmont Stakes, a reporter said to Smarty Jones' jockey that the hopes and dreams of the American public were with him.
The head guy at Visa said that Smarty Jones was something the country needed.
There was also a lot of anthropomorphizing taking place. This is where you hold up signs for the horse to read: Smarty we love you. It's where somebody reads the horse's mind and says he's putting on his game face. It's where human characteristics are attributed to an animal.
Hey, you see that? Smarty just smiled at me.
When the Lakers win the NBA title, cars and sports utility vehicles are set on fire.
Why does a country rally around a horse?
It's really pretty simple.
Horses don't trash talk.
Usually at the end of a horse race, somebody cheers. At the end of this one, you expected a security guard to lower the flag to half mast. People who bet All-Smarty exactas blushed and went outside to high-five each other.
Two-buck place tickets on Smarty Jones will be cashed.
For Smarty lovers, the race was a worst-case scenario that seemed to take forever to play out. There were only a couple of ways he could lose. One, he could be left in the gate. Two, he could forget his classic stalking style and get a short lead too early and have to maintain it too long, and then hit the treadmill that is the stretched stretch at Belmont. Film of horses losing the Triple Crown in New York looks amazingly similar. Mile and a sixteenth styles are run over a mile and a half race.
Here's what I know about jockeying. It looks real hard. Evidently sometimes there is nothing a person can do besides hang on and then try to go faster later.
According to numerous national reports, Smarty Jones was being counted on by many to take horse racing to a new level.
Little children who had fallen for Smarty were going to persuade their parents to quit messing around with yard and gardening work and spend more time at the race track playing the exotics.
People who had bet $2 were going to start betting $4.
Despite what you might see on television -- it's like all those people in the stands are future veterinarians -- wagering is the essence of horse racing. You ever see a betting window on the tube?
Now that Smarty Jones has lost, what's to become of the sport he was supposed to save?
Will truck bumpers and rusted fenders start showing up in infields next week?
Will gamblers down by the rail huddle around fires in garbage cans to stay warm because of cutbacks?
Will burned out light bulbs appear in tote boards?
Will turf courses go to dandelions?
Will dirt surfaces be watered by hand?
Who'll save horse racing now?
Same people who have been saving it for a hundred years.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org