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Dec 13, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Gearing up for a 10th anniversary

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Four weeks away from the start of the 2014 racing season at Oaklawn Park. The Hot Springs, Ark. track has become the hot location for 3-year-olds headed to the Triple Crown series.

Actually, after the results of 2013's 3-year-old stakes, Oaklawn Park is the place to be for any owner and trainer with a potential champion 3-year-old.

While Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby, it was Will Take Charge that proved to be the best 3-year-old to compete at Oaklawn. Trained by Hall of Fame member D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge won the track's Smarty Jones and Rebel Stakes before regrouping for the second half of the year and winning the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, and getting second in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

But the fact that Oaklawn Park is a major player in the Kentucky Derby run up did not just begin in 2013.

In 2014 many people will be observing the 10th anniversary of Smarty Jones winning the track's signature stakes and then taking control of the division with commanding victories in the Run for the Roses and Preakness Stakes.

Based at Philadelphia Park, now Parx Racing, Smarty Jones won his first eight starts beginning with a maiden race and stakes at the Bucks County track. Trained by John Servis for Pat and Roy Chapman, the colt won at Aqueduct to begin 2004 and then headed to Oaklawn for the Kentucky Derby prep races.

Smarty Jones hit Oaklawn and swept the stakes leading to the Arkansas Derby. He claimed the $1 million, 1 1/8-mile race by 1 1/2 lengths as the even-money favorite in an 11-horse field.

Heading to the Kentucky Derby, as Oaklawn Park was celebrating its 100th anniversary, an additional $5 million was put up as a bonus for the horse that sweeps the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Run for the Roses.

With Canadian native and Philadelphia Park jockey Stewart Elliott retaining the mount, Smarty Jones outclassed 17 other 3-year-olds in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs by just under three lengths as the 4-1 favorite on a sloppy track.

The win was worth $5,884,800 and began an upward spiral for Pennsylvania-bred horses and racing that eventually led to casino gambling in the state.

"Smarty Jones brought world-wide attention to the Bensalem Racetrack and became instrumental in the passing of the long awaited Slots Bill. On July 4th, 2004, PA Governor Ed Rendell signed the bill into law in the Winner's Circle of Philadelphia Park," as stated on Parx Racing's website.

Two weeks after winning the Run for the Roses, Smarty Jones blew away his competition by 11 1/2 lengths in the Preakness Stakes. The colt had become the favorite son of Philadelphia and the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

It was on to the Belmont Stakes for the chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

After spending time in his barn at Philadelphia Park, Smarty Jones and company headed to Belmont Park for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.

In what would prove to be his last race, Smarty Jones was sent off as the 3-10 favorite in a nine-horse field. Stewart Elliott decided to put his mount on the lead on the backstretch where they opened a sizable lead going into the final turn.

Smarty Jones had a clear lead at the top of the stretch as 36-1 longshot Birdstone and jockey Edgar Prado came driving toward him. It still seemed as if the favorite would hold on at the wire to make history.

Alas, fortune did not smile on the Chapmans, Servis, Elliott or Smarty Jones. The colt lost by a length with eight more lengths separating him from the rest of the field.

Injury prevented Smarty Jones from ever racing again, but the Pennsylvania- bred colt made history in 2004 and is still considered a hero in the Philadelphia area.

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