06/10/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Pressure tactics in the Belmont hurt the game

Much has been written about the Belmont Stakes and why Smarty Jones did not win. Being a race fan for more than 45 years and now a breeder and Thoroughbred owner, I came to a final analysis of the race that holds that the idea of some jockeys, owners, or trainers in the Belmont was not to win but to prevent Smarty from winning. Was it blatant - no. Can other excuses cover up the truth? Only the participants can say.

My main gripe goes to Jerry Bailey. How many winners does he ride a year? Plus he's always a top earner. His Belmont ride on Eddington, though, was one of not trying to win. Bailey has been in a stalking position more times then I can remember and has shown patience to no end waiting for a hole to open.

If he really had been trying to win the race, patience, as in the past, should have prevailed. As the front-runners started to tire, the rail would have opened, and if Bailey had had enough horse he would have had a run at winning. Instead he further pressured Smarty Jones, leaving Edgar Prado, on Birdstone, and Stewart Elliott, on Smarty Jones, as probably the only two jockeys to run the race to win.

When individuals involved in the largest race day in the last 26 years take it upon themselves to try to prevent a win, a huge black eye is given to an industry that unfortunately has as much perceived integrity as professional boxing.

Prado should not have apologized to the Smarty Jones team. Bailey and anyone else who rode or entered to prevent a victory should.

Steve Waxman
Versailles, Ky.

A tag team on horseback

I just finished watching the replay of the Belmont Stakes for the fifth time, and I am convinced that both Jerry Bailey, on Eddington, and Alex Solis, on Rock Hard Ten, gave their mounts extremely questionable rides.

I have seen Bailey ride countless times, and he is a master at getting good position and making his move at the opportune moment in a race. To watch him attempt to move five wide with a mile still to go left me incredulous, and for him to continue to have Eddington in a full drive going into the far turn indicated to me that he was more interested in trying to get Smarty Jones beaten than to win the race himself. He owes the owners an apology.

Alex Solis did little to distinguish himself either, initially by going to the front, and then, after Bailey forced Stewart Elliottt to move Smarty Jones sooner than he wanted, by driving Rock Hard Ten through on the inside to further prompt the pace instead of laying off the top two and trying to close in the stretch. His tactics gave his mount no chance to win. If you watch both Bailey and Solis nearing the far turn and see how they are pushing on their horses, you know these are not normal tactics by great riders at the half-mile pole in a Triple Crown race.

I give Birdstone full credit for running down Smarty Jones to win, but I believe his rider, Edgar Prado, had more than a little help from his friends in softening up the favorite. It is a shame that Smarty Jones had to lose under such circumstances.

Bill Brown
Philadelphia

Smarty defeated himself

I have heard the widespread argument that Jerry Bailey rode a race not to win the Belmont, but to beat Smarty Jones. Saturday's crowd - desperately wanting a feel-good story - was angry that they didn't see a Triple Crown winner.

Bailey didn't cost Smarty Jones or his connections a Triple Crown. The absence of one more needed workout - so that Smarty Jones may have been less keen - may have.

David Zeoli
Greensburg, Pa.

Professional betrayal seen

I have been a jockey for 17 years and have always had a lot of respect for Jerry Bailey as a class rider who rode to win. His ride in the Belmont Stakes, however, on a live contender, was a disgrace to horse racing. Bailey sacrificed himself only to beat Smarty Jones and jockey Stewart Elliott.

Bailey moved his horse five wide and was riding and tapping his horse on the shoulder with his whip to put pressure on Smarty Jones and his rider after only a half-mile into the race when he knew that was not the right way to ride. Edgar Prado, on the other hand, rode Birdstone only to win the race - that was all.

Bailey has maybe too big of an ego, and if people can not see the ride he gave that is a shame, because he does not normally ride that way. Bailey may deny it because he is a PR man for horse racing and he is very good at it. His Belmont ride, however, was not to win, only to make sure that another class-act jockey did not upstage him - perhaps because Bailey wasn't riding the favorite.

I'm sorry for Elliott and the connections of Smarty Jones, and I'm very sorry for Bailey - he just lowered himself to a very low level.

Mike Iammarino
Surprise, Ariz.

One wonders about motive

Smarty Jones proved in the Belmont Stakes that he is indeed a great racehorse by coming within a length of winning, despite being dogged from the word go by Jerry Bailey, who made it his mission not to get the highest placing for his horse, its owner, and backers, but to get Smarty Jones beaten even if he had to run Eddington into the ground to do it.

Alex Solis on Rock Hard Ten didn't do his horse or the public any favors, either.

There was talk that Bailey tried to get the mount on Smarty after the Arkansas Derby. Since his intention Saturday was obvious, we can only wonder what was at work in his mind, when the American public tuned in to see something uplifting in these terrible times. All we really asked is that Smarty get a fair chance.

Huge congratulations to John Servis, the Chapmans, and the whole Smarty Jones team. A huge thank you, also - it was a great ride.

Gregory Hill
Martinsburg, W.Va.

Body language told all

Mike Watchmaker's June 9 column, "Did Elliottt lose the Crown?" was all wrong. Stewart Elliottt wasn't to blame for the defeat of Smarty Jones.

Coming from the farm and just looking at Smarty Jones walking in the Belmont Park paddock and then onto the racetrack, you could see he was all used up inside. He lost the race in the paddock. Look at the tapes and you will see the one horse who was fit and dry, and he won.

Elliottt rode Smarty Jones well, but in the stretch run there was simply nothing left in the tank.

I feel badly for all in that history was denied. As for Elliottt, he is not to blame.

James John Myers
Columbia, Mo.

Odd time to go brain-dead

Jockeys are paid to win races, and therefore Edgar Prado had no reason to apologize to Stewart Elliott after winning the Belmont. Nonetheless, it was a very classy thing to do.

Jockeys are also paid to ride intelligent races, and finishing second or third in a classic race is certainly financially rewarding to all concerned: the jockey, the trainer, and the owner.

Clearly, all the contenders in the Belmont were hoping that someone would be able to soften up Smarty Jones in the early stages of the race in order to make him vulnerable at the 1 1/2-mile distance. Purge tried to do just that, and when he began to drop back, Rock Hard Ten assumed that responsibility.

Why then would Jerry Bailey, perhaps the top jockey in the world, who is sitting in the catbird seat behind this contested pace, choose to range up four wide down the backstretch? In so doing, he eliminated any chance his horse had of winning the race, as well as finishing second or third.

Eddington's owners, Willmott Stables, and his trainer, Mark Hennig, should be absolutely incensed at that ride.

Bailey is an intelligent rider, and intelligent riders don't often make that kind of mistake. Is it possible that he sacrificed his horse in order to compromise Smarty Jones's chances of winning the Triple Crown and Stewart Elliottt's chance for riding immortality?

Peter Thompson
Wellington, Fla.

Extra help needed here

I'd like to suggest an idea to improve the Daily Racing Form's presentation of past performance for future Belmont Stakes. A small symbol - might I suggest a small crown with an X through it - could be placed next to the name of any jockey who plans to sacrifice his horse's chances of hitting the board by harassing a Triple Crown aspirant in the early stages of the race.

The rides Alex Solis and Jerry Bailey gave Rock Hard Ten and Eddington in this year's edition of the Belmont were shameful. They completely compromised their horses' chances in order to soften up Smarty Jones.

Perhaps I was foolish to assume that the connections of these horses would try their best to hit the board. I should have understood that jealousy would lead the connections of horses with nothing to lose to stop at nothing to prevent someone else from winning the Triple Crown, even if it meant that their horses would finish up the track.

Was the approach taken by these connections legal? Certainly. Was it sporting? Hardly. But next time guys, can you let us know your intentions before the race, so we can throw your horses out?

Robert Smith
Baltimore

Bright lights were blinding

Stewart Elliottt blew it. Why did he move so early at the half-mile run in 48 and change? He was sitting chilly.

Why? The big-time got to him. Smarty didn't lose - Elliottt did.

Winston Taylor
New York City

One angle foretold story

On the way to the coronation, a horse race took place. The best horse won the Belmont Stakes. It was a splendid training job by Nick Zito with Birdstone, and a well-timed ride by Edgar Prado.

While seemingly everyone else is lamenting the loss by Smarty Jones, I am not. I must thank the June 3 Racing Form article, "Not exactly 'Been there, done that,' " for pointing out that no horse had won the Triple Crown without having raced at Belmont previously.

This year's Belmont proved the old axiom still holds true: That's why they run 'em.

Steve Vargo
Columbus, Ohio

Campaign was undoing

Why did Smarty Jones get beaten? By embarking upon the trail to win the Triple Crown, the rigors of going for the prize.

If it were not for the fact that the Belmont Stakes is part of the Triple Crown, why would Smarty Jones have run against the likes of every other horse entered - particularly when his camp had limited time to prepare him to run the 1 1/2 miles? Anybody knows that it is a monumental task to prepare a 3-year-old to run at three different racetracks, at three different distances, over a five-week period in the spring. It has not gone unnoticed, in particular, that Nick Zito used the full five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont to prepare Birdstone to run the distance.

This year's Belmont boiled down to the fact that the realities of horse racing won over the dream of Smarty Jones becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner. Zito prepared Birdstone to win a race, whereas John Servis had to work hard to keep his horse together while at the same time training him to run 1 1/2 miles.

Hats off to Nick Zito and Edgar Prado for a job well done, and thank you John Servis and Stewart Elliott for letting us share your dream.

Al Basile
Delta, British Columbia

Second place no disgrace

Smarty Jones lost nothing in defeat - he gave it his best. He ran a winning race in most years. He put away Rock Hard Ten, Eddington, and Purge. Where did they finish?

Trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliottt were as gracious in defeat as they were in winning. I hope Smarty wins his next race - after a well-deserved vacation.

John Tres
Temple City, Calif.

Distance too much to ask

American horses are not bred and trained to race 12 furlongs. Sir Barton's 1919 Belmont Stakes victory was contested at 1 3/8 miles on the same outsized oval we have today. I wish the powers that be would recognize that 12 furlongs is no proof of greatness. Smarty Jones was by far the best horse in this year's Belmont, and he would have won the Triple Crown had the race been contested at a sensible distance.

Joe Conte
Uniondale, N.Y.

Don't cheapen Crown

Our ears hurt as we stood in the Belmont grandstand and Smarty Jones reached the stretch in front. A minute later the emptiness was filled with debate: Should the Triple Crown configuration be changed?

There is occasional talk that the Crown format should be changed. Perhaps the time between races should be lengthened and the distances shortened. Some in the sport predict that we will never see another Triple Crown winner.

After this year's Preakness, jockey Gary Stevens called Smarty Jones one of the best horses he had ever seen, and Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's rider, predicted Smarty Jones would win the Belmont by 25 lengths. Talk of Triple Crown alteration was halted.

If the seeds of change have been planted, will the revisionists garner more support now that Smarty Jones was defeated? I strongly believe that the Triple Crown should not be altered in any way.

We live in an age where superlatives like "legend," "superstar," and "best ever" are used prematurely to describe athletes of questionable stature. To illustrate my point, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points per game for a season in the NBA but he never lowered his right shoulder into an undersized opponent to gain an advantage. Sandy Koufax never threw at a batter's head after being taken long. Babe Ruth never put cork in his bat or steroids in his body. Jerry Rice never took a Sunday off, and Secretariat won the Belmont quite handily. True greatness does not require an edge or a lowering of standards.

The finest man I will ever know once told me that you can achieve anything if the goal is as true as your heart.

Somewhere out there is our next Triple Crown winner. An overcrowded field at Churchill, the tight turns at Pimlico, and 1 1/2 miles on Belmont's "Big Sandy" will not stop him, because his heart will match the goal. If we lessen the achievement, we will never experience the magic.

Peter Leibman
Garden City, N.Y.

Make it triple or nothing

It is time to make the Triple Crown a true Triple Crown. Limit the Preakness field to horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. Restrict the Belmont Stakes to horses who showed up for both the Derby and Preakness. No more skipping the Derby to run in the Preakness. No more running in the Derby, laying off five weeks, and coming back in the Belmont. It's the Triple Crown.

Admittedly, there could be some pretty small Belmont fields. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Besides, there are ways of dealing with short fields, like letting horses who ran in either the Derby or Preakness run if the original entry list for the Belmont were, say, fewer than five, but requiring them to carry more weight.

Who would call a heavyweight championship fight fair if Mohammed Ali took on Joe Frazier for five rounds, Mike Tyson climbed in against Ali for the middle five rounds, and Frazier returned to the ring for the final five rounds? Or Evander Holyfield finished the fight instead of Frazier?

That's the Triple Crown now. It's time for a change.

Don Zupanec
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Celebration of Hirsch was a weekend highlight

Belmont Stakes week will always be remembered for the race between Birdstone and Smarty Jones before a record crowd. There was another event the night before, however, that also was memorable. At the annual Belmont Celebration in the Marquee Tent beside Belmont's paddock, one of racing's most distinguished friends, Joe Hirsch, was honored by the New York Racing Association and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.

Joe is remarkable in his continuing sense of humor and positive approach to life even with an illness that prompted his retirement. He even hit the dance floor and showed he still has some moves! The bowl presented to Joe was engraved, "A Friend for All Seasons," and I think everyone connected to the Thoroughbred sport will agree.

As a trustee of the New York Racing Association and a board member of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, I had the privilege and pleasure to serve as chairwoman of the Belmont Celebration. The proceeds of this event went to the research foundation. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the co-chairs, Steven Crist, Shug McGaughey, and Todd Pletcher. I would also like to thank Mrs. Nancy Kelly, the New York Racing Association, and their staffs for a wonderful evening.

Over the years, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has been instrumental in supporting veterinary research that has aided the progress in many areas of disease control, reproductive problems, and the prevention and treatment of injuries. There are many causes connected to racing that require and deserve our best efforts and generosity. These range from the realities of the political world, to the responsible management of racing organizations, to the proper treatment and usage of retired horses. I am personally connected with several of these efforts, and I believe very much in all of them, but the work of Grayson-Jockey Club is special. Here the good graces of those in racing directly benefit the animal who makes it all possible.

Again, I thank everyone who supported and attended the Belmont Celebration.

Lucy Young Hamilton
Overbrook Farm, Lexington, Ky.