Smarty Jones's short but storybook racing career officially ended yesterday.
Chronic bone bruising in all of the 3-year-old colt's hoofs forced the decision, his owners and trainer announced.
The retirement of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who came up one length short of a Triple Crown by finishing second in the Belmont Stakes, became a distinct possibility after owners Roy and Patricia Chapman concluded a deal in late June worth about $39 million for the colt to stand at stud at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky.
Although a more serious injury could jeopardize the immense amount of money in breeding, both the Chapmans and trainer John Servis had expressed hope of racing Smarty Jones as a 4-year-old. But yesterday they said they would be doing the horse a disservice by trying to race him again.
"It's tough," Servis said yesterday during a telephone news conference. "We had a great ride with him. He's a great race horse. The thing that bothers me the most is that some people didn't really get to see how talented he was. . . . We made the decision in what is in the best interest of the horse."
Smarty Jones recently suffered a bruised left front hoof, forcing Servis to scratch him from a Sept. 6 appearance in the Pennsylvania Derby at his home track, Philadelphia Park. The Chapmans and Servis had planned to run Smarty Jones in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park in Texas on Oct. 30, but Smarty Jones, who had not trained well recently, underwent a bone scan Thursday at an equine medical center, where the extent of the bruising was discovered.
Now he will ride off into what is hoped to be a long sunset. Smarty Jones is expected to be shipped to Three Chimneys in a few weeks and occupy the stall formerly used by Seattle Slew. Smarty Jones won eight of nine starts, earning $7,613,155, which included a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas for winning the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. Cigar holds the North American earnings record at $9,999,915.
The Chapmans took exception to a question suggesting that -- in deciding to send Smarty Jones to the breeding farm instead of bringing him back to the races as a 4-year-old -- they were "taking the money and running." A veterinarian had said during the news conference that a long layoff probably would have enabled Smarty Jones to race again, citing "accumulated inflammation" that would eventually heal.
"If we had decided we were going to take the money and run, we would have done that before the Kentucky Derby," Patricia Chapman said. "We had an offer to buy that horse at any price we could name, and we didn't want to do it."
Roy Chapman added that they could have filled in a "blank check" and sold him before any of the Triple Crown races. "If we were interested in just the money," he said, "that's the time we would have sold him."
"After all he's done, I couldn't live with myself if I thought we were putting him in harm's way," Pat Chapman said. "He doesn't owe us anything, and we owe him a lot. . . . This has been a very difficult decision because we'd like to see him race again and we know that the public would love it."
Smarty Jones has not been himself -- which is to say, seemingly unbeatable -- since winning the Preakness with a brilliant burst of speed May 15. Three weeks later, he struggled and was overtaken by 36-1 shot Birdstone in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, which ended his hard campaign of 2004 and, as it turned out, his career. A victory in the Belmont would have made him the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"His race in the Preakness showed a little hint of what he was capable of," Servis said. "He still was so immature. It hurts me. He might have been the best of all time."