For 'Smarty,' the Longest Quarter-Mile
By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, June 7, 2004; Page D07
ELMONT, N.Y., June 6 -- For the first time during his odyssey down the long Triple Crown trail, Smarty Jones left a little feed in his tub after a race. After tearing through a mile-and-a-quarter in 136th Belmont Stakes on Saturday in 2 minutes 2/5 second -- four seconds faster than he ran to win the Kentucky Derby -- the undefeated little chestnut colt from Philadelphia found the final quarter-mile that makes the Belmont "The Test of the Champion" too much to handle.
With his loss to Birdstone by a single length, hopes for the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 were dashed, and there was nothing left for Smarty Jones's human connections to do but wake up the next morning and press on.
In a miserable Sunday morning drizzle, trainer John Servis arrived early at the No. 5 barn on the Belmont Park backstretch and took Smarty Jones out for a graze and a little conversation.
"I told him he ran hard," said Servis, who has verbally communed with his horse many times during their Triple Crown run. "We didn't get the outcome we wanted, but we had a really good ride. We've got more things ahead of us."
Servis plans to spend a few days in the mountains with his wife before returning to work at Philadelphia Park. Smarty Jones has a longer vacation ahead. The trainer said the colt will do little more than walk the shed row for three or four days and not set foot on a racetrack for as long as a month.
"Then we'll get him ready and put him on a schedule and map out a plan for the Breeders' Cup," the trainer said.
Both Smarty Jones and Birdstone, an even smaller colt, came out of the demanding 1 1/2-mile Belmont tired but in good shape. A rematch is not in the making, at least not any time soon. Servis likely will prepare Smarty Jones for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 8 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and then run in the Pennsylvania Derby on his home track on Labor Day weekend.
Nick Zito, Birdstone's trainer, has his sights set firmly on the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 28 at Saratoga with a single tuneup before the race.
Zito, a New Yorker who failed 11 times to win the Belmont before Birdstone beat Smarty Jones, called the win the biggest of his career. When told Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel said after the race Birdstone would be no match for Smarty Jones if the horses met again in two months, Zito got angry.
"Oh, I don't want to hear what Frankel said," Zito said. "What Frankel said -- what are you kidding me? Where was he yesterday? Hello? Get out of here, please. He ain't spoiling my victory, I can tell you that. He's got the wrong person. Get lost. Next question."
Frankel's Master David finished far back in seventh.
Zito had kinder words for Servis, expressing apology, condolence and solace after beating Smarty Jones. Indeed, much of the Belmont was an exercise in humility.
Servis returned the kindness.
"I don't know if anyone would have been more deserving than Nick," Servis said. "He had been second in the race five times. It's amazing how things turn out."
Racing Note: The ratings for NBC's coverage of the Belmont Stakes earned the highest overnight rating in 27 years. Smarty Jones's bid for the Triple Crown received a 13.4 overnight rating with a 27 share, the highest numbers since Seattle Slew won the series in 1977, according to Nielsen Media Research.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company