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Jun 11, 2004

ATC LEAD

By: Joe Girardi


            Well the 136th running of the Belmont Stakes is over and yet again another shot at the Triple Crown has

come and gone. This one however was supposed to be THE one. SMARTY JONES was undefeated, the

dominant three year old this year, his competition was up against it, the top contenders already badly beaten

by SMARTY JONES. For this reason there was a record crowd of 120,139 to see history made. Racing fans have

waited for 26 years for a Triple Crown winner, not since AFFIRMED have we seen a horse capture the country

and make racing fans out of casual sport fans. SMARTY JONES did that.

            The “Philly Flash”, the nickname he was given because of the fact that he is a Pennsylvania bred and his

home track is Philadelphia Park, was coming into the race perfectly. He was going to run his third race in five

weeks and had to travel to three tracks in the process but he looked stronger and more energetic than ever. It

had to happen the Triple Crown was so close. He was sent off at .35 cent to the dollar. He was one of the heaviest

favorites we have seen in a long time, how could he get beat? Well they don’t run the race in newspapers or

past performances; they run the race on the track.

            The field of nine all broke well with SMARTY JONES breaking from post 9 and settling in third place

early on. PURGE was sent to the lead from the inside and held an advantage heading to the half mile pole,

ROCK HARD TEN in close pursuit. SMARTY JONES took over the lead passing the half mile pole through

very reasonable fractions of 24:1, 48:3, but then picked up the pace going by the ¾ mark in 1:11:3 and the mile

mark in 1:35:2. After the first half in 48:3 the second half went in 46:4, which was fast but these are the best

three year olds in the country and they should have been able to handle that. EDDINGTON, who was one

of the contenders in the race and made an early move toward the lead and challenged SMARTY JONES. But

as the turn approached, EDDINGTON, ROCK HARD TEN and PURGE had all packed it in and that left

SMARTY JONES four lengths in front at the ¼ pole with only one challenger left, BIRDSTONE.

            After being one of the leading contenders at the beginning of the year BIRDSTONE had failed in his two

stakes tries, failing as the heavy favorite in the Lane’s End and then coming up empty in the Kentucky Derby

finishing a well beaten 8th. Trainer Nick Zito, regrouped and then pointed him to the Belmont. That was obviously

a good decision.

            As they approached the top of the stretch the only horse with a shot to catch was BIRDSTONE. He had

settled nicely in fifth after a half and was just biding his time. His move on the turn was a strong one to get him

into second but then as they hit the stretch both he and SMARTY JONES started to get tired, SMARTY got

more tired than BIRDSTONE, who ground him down to get the win. Yet again the crown was denied, the best

chance of any of the prior horses that have tried since 1978 was defeated. Defeated for the first time, defeated

by a horse that had not been on his game for a long time, defeated by a horse that he had easily handled in the

Kentucky Derby by more than 15 lengths. That is why they call it horse racing. That is why they have to run

the race on the race track and not on paper. We must remember that these horses are animals and not machines

and they can’t always give their best effort. The horse did himself proud, his connections were classy throughout

and all his fans from Pennsylvania should not be disappointed in “their” horse. Trainer John Servis did a

tremendous job and jockey Stewart Elliott also did a great job throughout the prep races and the Triple Crown

races. Elliott should not take the blame for the loss in the Belmont, the fact remains the horse had a four-length

lead into the stretch but could not finish off the race coming home in 27 seconds. Maybe his pedigree caught

up to him, maybe the three races in five weeks caught up to him or maybe it was the middle half but we did see

the best three year old finish second that day and with the time off he will prove that he is indeed the best of his

crop by a long way.

 

             



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