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)  


Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Look at it this way. Smarty Jones ran a 110 Beyer through 10 furlongs. He would have won many a grade 1 10 furlong race had he simply run like he did through the first 10 furlongs of the Belmont. Usually when a horse wins a race at a longer distance the 6 furlong or mile fractions are not anywhere close to what would be needed to win a 6 furlong or mile race. This is simple logic; running longer distances, horses need to ration their speed more, and thus run at a slower pace than what is seen in the shorter races. Smarty's pace in the Belmont would have been very respectable for any 10 furlong race. And that was his undoing. Rarely will a horse win a 12 furlong race while running a 10 furlong fraction good enough to win 10 furlong races. Secretariat is a notable exception. Smarty ran a wonderful 10 furlongs, actually a wonderful 11 furlongs. Unfortunately for Smarty, he did have to negotiate another furlong, and he simply had little left to give.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Thanks JD Bailey on Rock Hard Ten and Solis on Eddington . They ran 2 3 in the Preakness. They were never going to beat Smarty mixing it up the first 1/2 mile. Thanks guys!!! This was the biggest shot to put racing on page 1 of every newspaper in the country and lead every news broadcast. I was at the 3/16 pole and knew Birdstone was going to reel him in. Poor Smarty changed leads 3 times in the last 50 yards and never ran again. At the finish he looked like a nickel claimer.