05/31/2012 2:37PM

Triple Crown near-misses: Smarty Jones, 2004

A police motorcade leads Smarty Jones to the Belmont in 2004. He finished second after leading in midstretch.

Smarty Jones, bred in Pennsylvania and unbeaten through the Preakness, by all rights should have been the 12th Triple Crown winner. If you thought Bodemeister was impressive in losing the 2012 Kentucky Derby under extreme early pressure, go ahead, punch up a replay of the 2004 Belmont Stakes and get a load of what Smarty faced. I’ll wait. . . .

(Start spreading the news/I’m leaving today/I want to be a part of it/New York, New York.)

See what I mean? Neither Smarty Jones nor his rider, Stewart Elliott, had a moment’s peace through the first mile of the race. Their second quarter was faster than their first, and their third faster than their second. Then Rock Hard Ten and Eddington retreated like deflated balloons and Smarty Jones was alone, the final three furlongs of the Triple Crown in front of him.

Smarty Jones. Smarty Jones. Fans love just saying the name, and the sight of Smarty Jones lowering his body in that gorgeous, mechanized stride, setting sail for home and the Triple Crown, was enough to make them forget about what he’d gone through to get to that point.

It was only inside the final sixteenth that Birdstone and Edgar Prado began reeling him in. Tom Durkin saw it coming and gave the crowd of 120,000 fair warning:

“The whip is out on Smarty Jones. . . . It’s been 26 years. . . . Just one furlong away. . . . They’re coming down to the finish. . . . Can Smarty Jones hold on? . . . Here comes Birdstone. . . . Birdstone surges past. . . . Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes. . . . Smarty Jones was valiant, but vanquished.”

Triple Crown near-misses

Spectacular Bid (1979) Pleasant Colony (1981) Alysheba (1987) Sunday Silence (1989)
Silver Charm (1997) Real Quiet (1998) Charismatic (1999) War Emblem (2002)
Funny Cide (2003) Smarty Jones (2004) Big Brown (2008)