08/10/2004 11:00PM

What Smarty did cannot be erased

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PHILADELPHIA - Perspective is something of an abstract concept in our need-it-yesterday society. Everybody has an opinion and they have it right now. Facts and perspective are often tossed over the side in rushes to judgment colored by bias and sometimes even elitism.

Recently, I read comparisons between Smarty Jones and fellow Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners War Emblem and Funny Cide.

The writer suggested Smarty "has not accomplished anything more than they did."

Well, one could debate the exact meaning of accomplished in that context, but the evidence rather strongly suggests that Smarty Jones was one of the great 3-year-olds, certainly far better than War Emblem or Funny Cide.

If you want to debate Smarty's early retirement, feel free. Like everybody else, I wanted to see him run on. Do I like that he's been retired? Not a bit. Do I understand it? Sort of.

By the way, does anybody think, under today's economic conditions that are so tilted to breeding, that Seattle Slew, Affirmed, or Spectacular Bid would have raced as 4-year-olds? Had such diagnostic tools as nuclear scanning been around then, do you wonder if something wrong would not have been discovered with them?

If you want to debate the talent of Smarty Jones and don't think he was all that special, you are simply wrong. And if you want to use the names of Funny Cide, War Emblem, or even, as I have also read, Charismatic, you really don't get it.

Charismatic was 5 for 17 after his career ended in the Belmont Stakes. War Emblem was 6 for 10 after finishing eighth, 19 1/2 lengths behind, in the Belmont. Funny Cide was 5 for 9 after finishing third by 5 lengths in the Belmont. Smarty Jones came within one length of being only the second horse in history to win the Triple Crown while unbeaten. And everybody knows Smarty was the best horse in the Belmont. Only circumstance got him beat.

Smarty did not just win his first eight races. He dominated, winning by a combined 47 1/2 lengths. The Belmont was his ninth race at nine different distances at six different tracks.

Smarty Jones made three different moves to win the Derby. His victory in the Preakness had veteran jockeys like Gary Stevens invoking the name of Secretariat. Even the 118 Beyer did not do that race justice.

Even if you don't want to accept that evidence, consider what went down last weekend in the three significant 3-year-old stakes.

Derby Trial winner Sir Shackleton won Saturday's West Virginia Derby. Pollard's Vision, winner of Illinois Derby and Leonard Richards and second in the Ohio Derby, was second. Sir Shackleton finished sixth in the Preakness, 14 3/4 lengths behind Smarty. Pollard's Vision finished 17th in the Derby, 40 3/4 lengths behind Smarty.

Lion Heart won Sunday's Haskell. He was second, 2 3/4 lengths behind Smarty, in the Derby, and fourth, 13 1/2 lengths behind Smarty, in the Preakness.

Purge completely dominated Sunday's Jim Dandy. He has won all four of his races sans Smarty, including the Peter Pan Stakes. He won those races by 18 1/4 lengths. In three races against Smarty, the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and Belmont, Purge finished 47 lengths behind Smarty.

Let's review. The winners of the Haskell, Jim Dandy, and West Virginia Derby raced against Smarty Jones six times. And finished a combined 78 lengths behind him.

If you want to criticize Stewart Elliott's ride in the Belmont Stakes, have at it. I will disagree, but I understand the debate. If you want to question how good Smarty Jones might have been had he continued racing, that's fair. I am thinking he could have been an all-timer, but that's not a debate that can be won. If you want to feel sad for the sport because we won't get to see the only horse the public cares about race again, I am with you.

However, if anybody wants to question what Smarty Jones accomplished, how he did it, or just how good he really was, I am ready to debate that from now until forever.

The defense rests.