LOUISVILLE, May 1 -- Smarty Jones came to Churchill Downs with a great story; he left Saturday with a garland of roses draped across his neck.
With a powerful surge heading into the far turn, the Philadelphia Park-based colt separated from a pack of stalkers, lit out after runaway leader Lion Heart and ran him down in the stretch to take the 130th Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track.
Smarty Jones, left, with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard, drives toward a 23/4-length victory over Lion Heart on muddy Churchill Downs track.
(Al Behrman -- AP)
The 23/4 -length victory, before 140,054, capped as unlikely a progression to glory in America's signature horse race as Funny Cide produced the year before. Born at his owners' Someday Farm just outside of Philadelphia, Smarty Jones was one of two horses Roy and Pat Chapman did not sell as they planned to get out of the racing business in 2001. Now, he is the first undefeated horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.
"My wife calls us backyarders," said Roy Chapman, 77, as he sat in a wheelchair, breathing oxygen through a tank because he suffers from chronic asthma and emphysema. "I call us ham-and-eggers. We've had a lot of claimers, but we've had a lot of fun. We never expected to get here."
Unbeaten in six starts, Smarty Jones went off the tepid 4-to-1 favorite in the 18-horse field. He won the 1¼-mile Derby in a slow 2 minutes 4.06 seconds on a very unstable track.
With the victory, Smarty Jones collected a windfall $5,854,800 for his connections, the largest single payoff in horse racing history. The extra $5 million came courtesy of a bonus offered by Oaklawn Park to any horse who could sweep the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby and then go on to win in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Derby this year looked as wide open as any in memory, with no standout runner and an intriguing mix of speed horses, stalkers and closers. With the sharp, controlling speed of Lion Heart, who had showed tenacity in finishing second in his two prep races for the Derby, and the superior stalking ability of Smarty Jones, the closers never got into the mix. Many struggled in the slop just to get around the track.
Tapit, the Maryland-based runner trained by Michael Dickinson and ridden by leading mid-Atlantic jockey Ramon Dominguez, passed a string of horses on the backside but faded to ninth. Morning-line favorite The Cliff's Edge, the Blue Grass Stakes winner, lumbered up to finish a non-threatening fifth.
When the gate opened, Lion Heart, ridden by veteran Mike Smith, went right to the front. Six runners lined up behind him, Smarty Jones among them, jostling for position going into the first turn.
"He was inside and I was looking to get him clear sailing," said jockey Stewart Elliott, a 39-year-old journeyman rider who won the Kentucky Derby in his first try. "When I got the chance to get clear, I took it."
On the backside of the track after a half-mile in 46.73 seconds, Smarty Jones, one-eyed runner Pollard's Vision and Quintons Gold Rush emerged as the main challengers. Unlike the winner, however, those two runners could not sustain their bids, wilting in the late stages of the race.
"On the backstretch he was going really nice," Quintons Gold Rush's jockey Corey Nakatani said. "I really don't know what happened."
As Lion Heart reached the three-eighths pole, he looked comfortable and a threat to beat the field wire-to-wire. Smith said, "He left [the gate] quickly and did relax, but the crowd got to screaming and he got into the bridle."