The most amazing thing about the Preakness was not the margin of victory. That just came
one race early. I wrote in this space that Smarty will win the Belmont by a pole...not the Preakness.
After watching Smarty in action for four months, nothing that he does on or off the racetrack
No, what really surprised me was trainer Servis" reaction while Smarty was making the
Preakness look like the Pennsylvania Nursery. John didn"t jump up and down, wave his arms, scream
and high-five. He just stood in his box, and watched stoically as Smarty raced into history. There
was just a hint of a smile as Smarty hit the line. I"ve seen soccer moms and dads show more espression.
As a result, I took my cue from John.
I passed up the trip to the winner"s circle, and went directly to the barn. I camped myself on a
bench 10 feet from Smarty"s stall, and waited with friends and family for the fun to begin.
It didn"t take long.
About 20 minutes after the race, the Chapmans drove up in a golf cart, and waived to the cheering
crowd that had now reached 200. When Roy
Chapman saw me, he gave a thumbs-up, as if to say "thanks, Arkansas."
Shortly later, the star arrived...and the noise was deafening.
With hundreds of people lining the horse path and chanting "Smarty, Smarty", this wonderful racehorse
was led to the barn by groom Mario. After cooling out, trainer Servis told Mario to take Smarty
outside the barn for a hosedown. With cameras clicking, Smarty posed proudly, seemingly taking in
every ounce of adulation.
I was in the tack room talking to some Arkansas buddies when Servis came in the room. After some
handshakes and hugs, he rushed to the phone to make one call -- to track GM Raffetto. The reason? He
needed to get the saddlecloth to give to the Chapmans.
Earlier in the day, Servis had made another call to Raffeto, and this was the call that demonstrated the
kind of guy that Servis is. John, like his horse, is "Arkansas tough".
It seesms that Jeff Coady, the Oaklawn track photographer, was told his credential would not be good
for the winner"s circle. Coady went to the barn to tell Servis, and that"s when Servis picked up the phone
to ask Raffetto to rectify the problem. The point being that here we were, two hours from the most
important event of his life, and Servis took the time to help a friend.
Somehow, I can"t imagine the Zitos and the Bafferts of the world doing this.
That said, it"s nice to see the national media going nuts over this horse, kind of in the same manner the
way that that this writer was doing so two months back. Boys and girls, that"s fine. There is plenty of room
on the bus.
But some things do rub me the wrong way. For example, a nationally-known racing writer failed to pick
Smarty 1-2-3 in the Preakness, and then spent Sunsday and Monday extolling him as the next Secretariat.
And, this morning, I picked up a Jersey paper and read that Real Quiet was "never a factor" in the Belmont
Stakes. I guess the fact that Real Quiet was beaten half a nose by Victory Gallop escaped this fellow.
And then there was a New York columnist who continues to knock Arkansas racing, writing that no good
horses came out of Arkansas until Smarty. I guess he overlooked the likes of Victory Gallop, Lil E Tee,
Pine Bluff, Temperence Hill, Demon"s Begone, Sunny"s Halo, Grindstone, et al.
Then there"s the fact that Favorite Trick suffered his first loss in Arkansas, and that Horse of the Year
Azeri has won the last three Apple Blossoms, and that Cigar, Medaglia d"Oro and Peace Rules won the
Oaklawn Handicap within the last 10 years.
Plus, here"s another interesting point.
Servis has been quoted as saying that he chose Arkansas (Oaklawn Park) to campaign Smarty this year
because he would be facing softer competition than in Florida or California. Maybe so, but do you
realize that Servis took 13 other horses to Oaklawn this winter, and guess how many races he won
with those 13.
The answer is one!
Easier said than done.
If I wasn"t at the Preakness, the next best places to be last Saturday were Oaklawn Park and
Philadelphia Park. Too bad NBC blew off the Smarty Party at Oaklawn, but they captured the
Can you imagine what it"s going to be like in Philly on June 5? That will be the day, of course, on which
Smarty becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years. And there"s also the chance that the Flyers
will win the Stanley Cup the same day. After all, Game Six of the Cup finals is scheduled for that day...maybe
Already, the city fathers are planning a parade down Broad Street for Smarty Jones. And you know there
will be a parade for the Flyers. How crazy will that be?
One final thought today on Team Smarty, and that"s about Stew Elliott.
I"ve known Stew for 20 years, and I knew he had an alcohol problem that I was sure would come out
during the Triple Crown.
With that in mind, I discussed the issue with Stew at the barn after the Arkansas Derby.
"How are you going to handle the publicity when the story comes out?", I asked him.
I was stunned when he replied: "I don"t know, John. What do you advise?"
I told him to just tell the truth, and damn the torpedoes.
Of course, Stew"s drinking problem (and assaults) came public, and I thought he handled the whole thing
Stew basically said at a crazy-nuts press conference in the Pimlico press box last Friday that "yes, I made
mistakes. But who doesn"t? That"s history. And now, let"s get on with it."
Congrats to Stew for his handling of the alcohol issue.
And, oh yes, congrats to a brilliant job of riding Smarty. He hasn"t made a mistake yet, and I don"t believe
he will. He is proving sdomething that I have always believed. Namely that is there is scant difference in
terms of ability between the superstar jockeys, who earn millions, and the journeymen riders at Philly
Park and Prairie Meadows.
They call it horse racing -- not jockey racing -- for a reason.
In the meantime, I"ll be reporting on Team Smarty in the next couple of weeks from Philly Park and
Belmont Park. But I"ll still find time to (hopefully) pick winners.
Let"s start tomorrow at Hollywood Park, where they will chase a 708K Pick Six carryover.
Here are my top two in each race:
#8 Our Fling
#2 Princess Godiva
#6 Bee A Lion
#4 Sweet Lips
#3 Jewel of the Year
#7 Royal Place
#1 Global Empire
#3 Yodelin Two
Good luck. Talk to you Friday.