Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 15 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 15 Days to Go!!

Smarty Jones, the horse that captured America’s attention in 2004, became the second Pennsylvania-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, following Lil E. Tee in 1991. Bred by Roy and Pat Chapman, the chestnut was by Elusive Quality, out of the multiple stakes winning Smile mare, I’ll Get Along. The Chapman’s named the foal after Pat’s mother, who shared the same birthday as the colt, giving him Mildred’s nickname of “Smarty Jones”.  

After the farm’s trainer, Bob Camac, who had suggested the mating, was suddenly murdered along with his wife by his stepson, the connections were left in a tailspin. Roy Chapman was in ill health as well, so they decided to sell off most of their stock, only keeping two of their weanlings, one being Smarty Jones.  

Sent to trainer John Servis per a recommendation, the feisty chestnut had a tendency to get himself into trouble. One morning during starting gate schooling, the colt reared and crushed his head on the top of the gate. Knocking himself out, the chestnut fell to the ground, bleeding from his nose. Receiving treatment at the barn for shock and to stop the bleeding, the injured colt’s head began to swell. The next day Smarty Jones was transferred to the New Jersey Equine Clinic where it was discovered that he had fractured his skull and that the bones around his eye were damaged, leading to the thought that they may have to remove it. Thankfully they were able to save his eye, and while treating his other injuries, the youngster earned the nickname of “Quasimodo”, due to the severe swelling that he endured. After nearly two months of recovery, Smarty Jones was finally well enough to resume training.   Entered at Philadelphia Park for his debut, a maiden special weight, Smarty Jones left no doubt that he was recovered in winning by 7 ¾ lengths. Two weeks after his first win, the chestnut triumphed in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes, only this time the margin of victory was an impressive 15 lengths while running the 7 furlongs in 1:21 4/5. After taking the month of December off, Smarty Jones returned to the races in January, taking the Count Fleet Stakes by 5. Shipped then to Arkansas, the 3YO won the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and Arkansas Derby, putting him in line to earn a $5 million bonus that Oaklawn offered to any horse that could win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and Kentucky Derby.  

Derby day was rainy, with storms sweeping through the region. At race time however, the rains stopped and the skies cleared. The field of 18, which included top sire Tapit, navigated the muddy course to the starting gates. Smarty Jones with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard managed to make their way through a bumpy start to track behind the pacesetters in 4th throughout the backstretch. As the duo reached the far turn, they were in second place behind Lionheart, who had led the entire race. Arriving at the top of the stretch, Smarty Jones had closed the gap, taking the lead with a furlong remaining. Continuing to draw away from Lionheart, the Pennsylvania-bred crossed the finish line 2 ¾ lengths in front, in a time of 2:04.06 over the slop. Becoming the first undefeated Kentucky Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977, the colt was also $5 million richer due to the Oaklawn bonus.  

The hometown hero continued to gather fans after his Derby victory; drawing as many as 5,000 to the Pennsylvania track that was his home the Saturday after his conquest, just to watch him work over the oval. In the Preakness, Smarty Jones turned in a jaw-dropping performance as he coasted to victory by 11 ½ lengths, a record margin. With his popularity ever-increasing across the coast, due in part to his being a Sports Illustrated cover boy and media darling, the unlikely hero went into the Belmont as the overwhelming favorite at 1-5. In front of a record crowd of 120,139, the colt that had become known as “America’s Horse” would finish second, leaving the multitude in stunned silence. After setting a blistering pace under pressure and never able to relax, the chestnut began to tire as the 36-1 longshot Birdstone charged by to steal the victory.  

The Belmont proved to be his final race, as the colt was retired due to bone bruising. With only one loss in his career, the chestnut earned 3YO Champion Male honors, in addition to setting a new North American season earnings record that included his $5 million bonus, of $7,563,535. With his pedigree along with all of his victories over different distances, Smarty Jones was highly sought after as a sire. Standing his initial stud duties at Three Chimneys, the well-loved colt was housed in Seattle Slew’s old stall, and received many visitors. After the 2009 season, Smarty Jones returned to Pennsylvania where he stood until 2015. After that, a deal with Calumet Farm had the chestnut stallion being shuttled to Uruguay until 2019, when the Chapman’s moved him back to Pennsylvania. He met with some success in the states, having several black type winners, including the Grade I winner, Centralinteligence. His overseas runners have also had success, with a few earning Championships along the way.

(Photo courtesy of KDM archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum