08/14/2004 12:00AM

Smarty says so long to home fans

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EquiPhotos
Smarty Jones is walked down the Philadelphia Park track on Saturday by exercise rider Pete Van Trump (left) and groom Mario Arriagas.

BENSALEM, Pa. - Few fans were in attendance when Smarty Jones began his career at Philadelphia Park on a quiet autumn Sunday last November. Nine months later on a dreary Saturday afternoon, an estimated 10,000 fans at this small track outside Philadelphia came out to say thanks and bid farewell to the 3-year-old chestnut colt whom they followed on a ride that led all the way to the top of the sport.

Smarty Jones, who fell short in his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes on June 5, was given a retirement celebration on Saturday before being shipped to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky the following day to begin stud duty. Smarty Jones was retired, with lifetime earnings of $7,613,155, almost two weeks ago due to chronic bruising in all four ankle joints. At Three Chimneys, Smarty Jones will occupy the stall which once housed the great Seattle Slew. Smarty Jones was syndicated after the Belmont for $39 million.

The retirement celebration was Smarty Jones's third public appearance at Philadelphia Park. One week after winning the Kentucky Derby as the 4-1 favorite, Smarty Jones galloped around the Philadelphia Park track in front of about 5,000 people. Two weeks later, following his Preakness Stakes victory, about 8,500 people came out to watch a similar morning gallop. At all three appearances, Smarty Jones apparel and souvenirs, such as buttons, T-shirts, and hats, were sold.

With dark clouds hovering above and the chance of rain high, the mood for Saturday's event was somber. Smarty Jones left Barn 11 on the Philly Park backside at about 1:53 p.m., several minutes after the end of the third race. Following an audio montage of his race calls, minus the Belmont Stakes, track announcer Keith Jones introduced Smarty Jones. Wearing a cloth that denoted his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Smarty Jones was walked down the stretch by groom Mario Arriagas and a large crowd that included trainer John Servis and his family.

The owners, Roy and Pat Chapman of Someday Farm, were unable to attend the event. Jockey Stewart Elliott was riding at Monmouth Park and was also unable to attend.

Fans were packed in about five deep from the paddock all the way down to the winner's circle and along the rail to the top of the stretch. They gave Smarty Jones a rousing round of applause as he made his way over to the paddock at 2:05 p.m., and the colt took three laps around the paddock, looking eager and jumpy.

Five minutes after entering the paddock, Servis gave the okay to head over to the winner's circle. In the winner's circle, Smarty Jones was walked around in a small circle while Hal Handel, CEO of Philadelphia Park, gave a brief introduction and then handed the microphone to Servis.

Servis heaped lofty praise on the colt. "He is the greatest horse to come from Pennsylvania and maybe the greatest horse of all-time," he said.

Servis then seemed almost apologetic for Smarty Jones's retirement.

"We're doing what is in the best interest of the horse," he said. "It's been a world of fun, but we have to look out for the horse.

"We're going to miss him. I love all you guys."

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, the skies opened up and the rain finally began to fall. Servis asked fans for a final round of applause, loud enough to be heard in Kentucky. The crowd, many wearing the blue and white Chapman colors and holding up signs, responded and gave one last ovation for the horse that captivated a nation and put this small track in the national limelight.