07/27/2004 11:00PM

More Smarty questions than answers


PHILADELPHIA - So, what is the real story? That question has been posed to me over and over again since it was announced that Smarty Jones would not run in the Sept. 6 Pennsylvania Derby.

The answer is that there does not appear to be a real story. There is just so much that is unknown.

Nobody knows for sure if Smarty is going to make it back to the races. Or if he is going to be as good as new and win the Breeders' Cup Classic.

I am as cynical as the next guy. (Actually, I am far more cynical than the next guy.) If you think this is all a prelude to a Smarty retirement announcement, I understand your feelings. We have all seen this scenario before.

Having said that, I really do think the Smarty camp wants to run the colt again this year. I think they want to win the Breeders' Cup. I think they want to prove just how good this colt is.

They have a problem.

Smarty had a serious bruise in his left front foot. It has been cut out, but the colt needs some time to get over it.

After he went back to the track in late June, Smarty just jogged for a few days. When he eventually did gallop, he was not his usual smooth self. There was something not quite right. And it wasn't getting right.

Earlier this week, trainer John Servis made the decision to shut the colt down for a week or so. Sometime next week, Servis will try to get Smarty back on the track. If the colt can start galloping and then start breezing, he will have enough time to get ready for a race in late September or early October, the Super Derby or the Pegasus.

If Servis can't get Smarty ready for serious work on the track in the next few weeks, time is going to start working against him. And then another decision may have to be made.

If the decision is made to retire Smarty, that would be unfortunate, if understandable.

If the colt can't get ready for the Breeders' Cup, what is the point? Could he still come back and race as a 4-year-old? Certainly. Is it likely? No. Economic forces start to work strongly in favor of retirement, especially if the colt has a lingering foot problem.

So, if you really want to know about Smarty, hope the bruise clears up. Trust me on this. Servis wants to run Smarty. His owners, Pat and Roy Chapman, want to run this horse. I even think Three Chimneys Farm, where Smarty will eventually stand at stud, wants to run him.

Servis is convinced Smarty is a great horse. I agree.

Smarty, however, still must prove that greatness against the best older horses, assuming there are any of them left by Oct. 30. Even if Smarty had won the Triple Crown, I still think he needed to do what Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed did - prove their greatness after June of their 3-year-old seasons. And because he didn't win the Belmont Stakes, I think it becomes even more important that he get back to the races. And win.

There is so much unknow in horse racing that it becomes very hard to separate what you know and what you think you know.

Point Given certainly appeared to be a great horse. Do we really know?

If Smarty could have a serious 4-year-old campaign, something even close to Spectacular Bid's tour de force in 1980, then we would all know.

Is it possible Smarty will race next year? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not.

How would Smarty do in 2005? My guess is that he would dominate. My hope is that we get a chance to find out. Failing that, I hope we at least get to see him race this fall. If the colt is physically right, that really needs to happen. We really need to know.