08/12/2004 11:00PM

Smarty Jones just another in a long line of retirees

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PHOENIX - Why all the doom and gloom upon Smarty Jones's retirement? There are those saying it's a blow to the game, that Smarty was the superstar the game needs. I don't buy it.

The sport doesn't need saving - just a look at another year of record handle tells you things are going quite nicely. One superstar leaving the playing field will not kill the sport, just as one superstar coming on stage will not take the game up alongside football and Nascar in popularity. Secretariat left after age 3 and the sport thrived.

Smarty's retirement, early though it may be, is par for the course. Four of the last six Derby winners have been retired before turning 4, either due to injury (Charismatic), or to breeding situations like Smarty's (Fusaichi Pegasus). Only Monarchos and Funny Cide came back at 4 - and Monarchos ran just once at 4, in January, was hurt and retired.

It would have been great to see if Smarty could confirm his greatness at 4, like Seattle Slew or Affirmed or Spectacular Bid did. Derby heroes such as Ferdinand, Strike the Gold, Silver Charm, and Real Quiet did themselves proud as elders. Alysheba took his career to new heights at 4.

But Smarty's owners, Pat and Roy Chapman, and everyone else knows that bringing a horse back at 4 carries risk. Seattle Slew nearly died at 4. Many good 3-year-olds, including Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Alydar, and Holy Bull, were hurt during their 4-year-old campaign.

Of course, there's risk in everything. Didn't we just lose Free House to accident while he was "safely" in retirement?

Keep an eye on this sire

Fusaichi Pegasus, a Derby winner who was retired at 3, may be on his way to greatness in the breeding shed.

Fusaichi Pegasus has had 10 starters in the United States and Europe. His record stands at eight winners, one second-place runner, and one third-place runner. Those numbers are staggering.

Beyond the 80 percent win rate, Fusaichi Pegasus's winners have come under a variety of circumstances. Four have won on turf, four have won on dirt. He has such promising runners as the Bob Baffert-trained Roman Ruler, the heavy favorite in Sunday's Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar; Scandinavia, a winner a couple weeks ago in Ireland for Aidan O'Brien; and the Todd Pletcher-trained Killenaule, who ran third in the Colin at Woodbine.

Too much, too soon

The way Rock Hard Ten threw in the towel in last week's Grade 1 Haskell, something had to have gone awry. And, indeed, he came out of the race ill.

But, as trainer Jason Orman said, Rock Hard Ten has come a long way in a short time. He didn't even run until February, and by early April was considered a Kentucky Derby candidate. He shipped to Churchill to prepare for the Derby, but didn't get into the race because of a lack of graded stakes earnings. He then shipped to Pimlico for the Preakness, to Belmont Park for the Belmont, back to Southern California, ran in the Swaps, and then shipped again across country to New Jersey for the Haskell. He was simply given too much to do.

All he needs is some time off. Can you think of another horse you'd rather own going into 2005?

Division in disarray

To give you an idea how topsy-turvy the handicap division is, the winners of the last three significant stakes for older horses - Total Impact (Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup), Choctaw Nation (Grade 2 San Diego), and Roses in May (Grade 1 Whitney) - were not considered leading contenders for the Breeders' Cup Classic.