As a kind of unofficial spokesperson for Team Smarty, I have been asked by at least
one million people over the last 72 hours the same question:
"What went wrong?"
After all, 1-5 shots are not supposed to lose, be it in nickel-claimers at Beulah Park or in the
Permit me to offer my opinion.
First and foremost is the fact that the Belmont was the sixth race in 15 weeks for Smarty
Jones. All six races were pressurized two-turners at the highest level.
The plan by trainer John Servis from the getgo was to use the three Arkansas races to get
Smarty to the Kentucky Derby -- and to win it! Servis not once during that remarkable
Arkansas campaign ever gave a moment's thought to beyond the Kentucky Derby.
But once Smarty won the Derby, obviously he had to go to the Preakness. And, once he won
the Preakness, obviously he had to go to the Belmont. If Smarty had lost either the Derby or
the Preakness, he never would have run in the Belmont.
So Smarty made the Belmont, and, in doing so, he became the only member of a crop of 50,000
to compete in all three Triple Crown races.
As for the race itself, Smarty ran lights out. If he had been 5-1 instead of 1-5, his race would have
been hailed by the media and the public as a brilliant effort.
Consider that he put away Purge, Rock Hard Ten and Eddington (the second, third and fourth
choices); ran two 23-second quarters in the middle of the race, lost ground from post nine for
the entire mile and a half, and ran 10 furlongs in 2:00 -- or four seconds faster than his winning
time in the Kentucky Derby.
Yes, Smarty had every right to get tired the last furlong, and Birdstone, benefiting from a
perfect trip, and a perfect ride by Edgar Prado, whom I have been saying for months in this
space, is the best rider on the planet, nailed him 70 yards from the wire.
Smarty indeed ran huge. Was that not eight lengths back to the third horse? And he beat
everything he had to beat by double-digits. Who could have foreseen a 36-1 shot fall from the
sky and beat him.
Although Birdsone is no ordinary 36-1 shot. After all, he was -- besides Smarty -- the only
Grade 1 winner in the race. He had the best jock, and his trainer merely had put over two bombs
earlier on the card.
I've never been a big fan of Nick Zito, and his holier-than-thou persona. But I did wish him luck
when I ran into him on Belmont Eve, although I didn't mean it.
But the point is that the long, incredibly difficult campaign finally caught up with Smarty the last
furlong of the Belmont. And, for the first time, the colt was actually tired after the race. He had
every right to be.
Here's where I want to make a point about post position.
Everyone says post doesn't matter going a mile and a half. And Servis actually said he was
delighted (and I believe him) that Smarty drew the nine.
But it's obvious -- at least to me -- that Smarty lost a ton of ground -- a heckuva lot more than the
one length by which he was beaten.
I'm not about to waste my time or your time wagging about Stew Elliott's ride. Media people, who
don't have a clue, are trashing his ride.
AND THEY ARE DEAD WRONG!
What was Elliot supposed to do? Back off with the fastest horse in the race? Take back to last, and
then try to circle? Are you kidding me? If he had done that, he would have been crucified. And
I heard some New York talk-show idiot yesterday condemn Elliot for not letting Eddington go
down the backstretch. Stew had no choice. He knew that jockeys Bailey and Solis were ganging
up on him, but he had to let his horse run. For god sakes, that's what Smarty Jones does best.
He runs. And he doesn't stop. At least until six races in 15 weeks took their toll.
A major New York trainer told me yesterday that the reason Bailey rode Eddington the way he
did was that "...Jerry felt that if he couldn't win the Triple Crown, he didn't want anyone
I've known Bailey 25 years, and I've seen him develop from a hungry (and humble) rider who
couldn't buy a mount, much less a winner, to a modern-day Arcaro. And, during that time, I
don't ever recall seeing Bailey make the backside move that he made on Eddington.
For that, Bailey has taken some heat in the last 72 hours. And, obviously, some of the heat is
justified. As Servis said in the day-after press conference (or at least inferred), Bailey and Solis
were more intent on getting Smarty beat than in winning the race. (I do know that Rock Hard
Ten's trainer was furious at jockey Solis after the race. He had wanted his horse rated.)
Bailey defends his ride in Tuesday's editions of the New York Post, and he makes a strong
case. But let's be honest here. If Bailey doesn't make that premature move, there's no question
in my mind that Smarty wins the Belmont.
Back to Stewart Elliott for a moment.
After Elliott rode the third race, I went down to the jocks' room with some photos for him
to sign -- as pre-arranged.
But Elliott was otherwise occupied.
For 45 minutes, Elliott sat at a table in the lounge with two men and a woman, obviously
finalizing some kind of business deal. (I found out later that it was a $250,000 endorsement
deal for Stew. For that price, he had to wear some company's name on his britches.)
My first thought was that I was ripped because I wasn't getting those photos signed as
promised. But the more I sat there (five feet away), I began to realize that Smarty Jones'
rider -- with the biggest race of his life hours away -- shouldn't be sitting in the jocks' lounge
finalizing a business deal...right in full view of the Baileys, the Prados and the Velasquezes of
These guys weren't jealous enough of Stewart Elliott before this was happening. You can imagine
how they were viewing this bit!
And, speaking of Prado, I thought it was a magnificent gesture for him to carry that "peace" poster
into the winner's circle. But, for the life of me, where did that poster come from? Can someone
Following the race, I stood with family and friends outside the racing office, and watched
thousands file out. Most of them knew Smarty Jones only from reading about him, and watching
him on TV or from the stands. But Smarty had grabbed millions by their heartstrings, and his
loss was devastating.
No one stopped to think that hey, this horse was eight-for-nine, he had won the Kentucky and
Arkansas Derbies, and the Preakness, and he was still a champion.
Bill Nack came by, and introduced his fiancé. Bill, like many others, was near-tears, but he had
a personal reason to be devastated. Last week, he was commissioned by Time Magazine to
ride a 1,000-word cover essay on Smarty Jones, on the presumption that Smarty would win
"This was going to be my career highlight -- a Time cover," said Nack.
Ironically, Smarty would not have been the Time cover even if he had won the Belmont.
President Reagan's death certainly would be -- and is -- the lead in every news publication
From the moment the Belmont Park gates opened last Saturday at 8:30 until midafternoon,
this beautiful racetrack was the most festive I've ever seen. The Smarty Party was in full
blast -- and all was right with the world.
But then -- in quick succession -- came the announcement of President Reagan's death, and
an ensuing moment of silence. And then, of course, came the race itself, turning cheers to tears.
But, a day later, everything came into perspective.
The 60th anniversary of D-Day.
Somehow, the winning and the losing of a horse race didn't seem that important.