It was a performance to take the breath away, the kind of victory fans will talk about as long as horses go around the track. With a devastating move on the far turn that swept him inside and past Lion Heart, undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones galloped into racing history Saturday, winning the 129th Preakness Stakes by a record 11 1/2 lengths.
For the third straight year and sixth time in the past eight years, a horse will go on to Belmont Park seeking to capture the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. While War Emblem in 2002 was a one-dimensional front-runner, and Funny Cide last year ran past a weak field, the pride of Philadelphia Park turned in a definitive performance before a record crowd of 112,668 at Pimlico, winning the 13/16-mile race in a fast 1 minute 55.59 seconds.
"The Pimlico homestretch belongs to Smarty Jones!" cried track announcer Dave Rodman as the winner drew farther away from the field. "He is a picture of perfection!"
The victory was worth $650,000 to owners Roy and Pat Chapman, who were getting out of the racing game after 20 years before Smarty Jones came along. The horse has now earned $7,383,155 in eight races, and if he wins the $1 million Belmont Stakes and the $5 million bonus offered by Visa for winning the Triple Crown, Smarty Jones will become the highest-earning racehorse of all time.
"Everything I've asked him for, he's stepped up to the plate," said trainer John Servis, who rubbed his head with a look of disbelief when told the margin of victory. "I'm on cloud nine. As far as going to Belmont, if he's telling us he's ready, we're on to the Belmont."
The Preakness at first appeared to unfold in much the same manner as the Derby, with Lion Heart sprinting to the lead and Smarty Jones taking up the chase. This time, however, Smarty Jones ran in the clear early on, instead of battling with a flight of other stalking horses as he had at Churchill Downs.
As the field reached the first turn, Lion Heart drifted well off the rail, forcing Smarty Jones to run in an outside path. Although jockey Mike Smith denied it afterward, the move appeared to be a bit of gamesmanship to make Smarty Jones travel a longer route.
"I wasn't worried," said Stewart Elliott, the rider of Smarty Jones. "I just wanted to have clear sailing for this."
Lion Heart galloped along through moderate fractions of 23.65 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 47.32 for the half-mile. Smarty Jones appeared to have him tracked and in his sights the entire time.
With a little less than a half-mile to go, 51-to-1 long shot Song of the Sword moved abreast Smarty Jones on his inside, and Elliott knew it was time to go. Smith had kept Lion Heart off the rail as he ran into the far turn and Elliott asked Smarty Jones to make a move.
"I figured on the backside, I had the option to see if Mike Smith would take him back in," Elliott said. "Otherwise, I would take him to the inside. My only concern was the closers."
Smarty Jones ducked down to the rail and took off. Lion Heart, passed, looked broken and began to drift into submission. Rock Hard Ten, meantime, who didn't run in the Derby, angled to the inside and vainly took up the chase under the whip of jockey Gary Stevens, who flew in from France just for the race.
Rock Hard Ten had been fractious loading into the starting gate, balking four times and forcing Stevens to dismount before the horse finally went in. Once Rock Hard Ten got in and got going, he proved to be as formidable as his reputation, but he was no match for Smarty Jones.
At the top of the stretch, Elliott bore down on Smarty Jones. The horse pricked his ears when the jockey twirled his whip in his right hand and gave him three little taps.
It was over.
"I was actually right behind the winner, but he's very, very special," Stevens said after the race. "We might be seeing a Triple Crown winner. My horse had another gear, but Smarty Jones had four more gears. Smarty really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away."
Rock Hard Ten finished second, two lengths in front of Eddington. Lion Heart faded to fourth.
"I stayed after him and kept him in as best I could," Smith said of Lion Heart, "but Smarty Jones was just amazing today."
As the 3-5 favorite, Smarty Jones returned $3.40 to win. The exacta paid $24.60.
As Smarty Jones galloped down the homestretch, Servis watched quietly, with a look of silent pride on his face. After winning the Kentucky Derby, the trainer hesitated to automatically commit to running Smarty Jones in the Preakness. After deciding to run, the trainer went lightly on his horse, putting him through no workouts, only gallops around the Philadelphia Park track.
"Mr. Servis," Elliott said at the postrace news conference. "the last time you credited me. This time, I'm crediting you. [Smarty] just took me around."
Roy Chapman, however, wanted to make sure the jockey, who has toiled throughout his 20-year career in anonymity in Philadelphia, received his just due.
"I remember someone in Kentucky calling him 'Stu Who?' like he was a novice rider," Chapman said. "If that's a novice rider, I'll kiss a horse's butt."
With a three-week rest before the Belmont on June 5 -- if you can call a build-up to a possible Triple Crown winner a rest -- Servis sounded more confident than ever about Smarty Jones, who now has no more questions to answer other than one about just how great he is.
"I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him yet," Servis said.