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Newz Forum: OTHER: Fans turn out to say goodbye to Smarty Jones

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posted on Aug, 15 2004 @ 04:04 AM
Thousands of fans convened for one last Smarty party, an opportunity to say an emotional goodbye to Smarty Jones, the race horse that captivated the country. That he fell one win shy of winning the coveted Triple Crown mattered little to the nearly 8,000 fans at Philadelphia Park on Saturday who sobbed and shouted "We'll miss you!"

Don't cry for Smarty Jones, Philadelphia.

He may not be back on the track, but there are worse ways to end a career than making Team Smarty millions while standing stud in Kentucky. But Saturday at his home turf was indeed the last public appearance in the state for the popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who missed out on the Triple Crown with a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes.

The 3-year-old chestnut colt who brought the city its long-awaited champion was paraded down the frontstretch for the fans. Led by exercise rider Pete Van Trump, and with trainer John Servis nearby, Smarty Jones leisurely walked down the track and circled around near the paddock before returning to a familiar spot - the winner's circle. There fans jammed the apron, snapped pictures and called out his name. The horse seemed unfazed, even as he was presented with a tub of carrots.

"It's the first time I've seen him close up!" one fan gasped.

Chants of "Smarty! Smarty!" reverberated down the track as Servis waved to the crowd. Owners Pat and Roy Chapman did not attend. Neither did Stewart Elliott, the jockey for Smarty's nine career starts. Servis had plans for the spunky colt who nearly died a year ago after fracturing his skull in a starting gate accident. But Smarty was retired two weeks ago after he was diagnosed with bone bruises in all four hoofs.

His brief, sensational run ended fittingly at the same track where he earned his first career victory. In nine career starts, Smarty Jones won eight races and earned $7,563,535, including a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for victories in the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. The Chapmans recently syndicated him for about $48 million. Servis thanked the Chapmans for the opportunity and the fans for the faithful following.

"He's the greatest horse to come from Pennsylvania and maybe the greatest horse of all time," Servis said. "We're all going to miss him. It's been a world of fun, but we have to look out for the horse."

Most fans were grateful for the final look, turning out in the typical wardrobe of a Smarty T-shirt, cap and buttons. That was too bland for Kevin Murray of Long Island, N.Y., who wore a Philadelphia Flyers jersey with S. Jones and No. 9 on the back. The colt was known as "The Philly Flyer" and the number represented his career starts. Murray had to catch at least one glimpse of the horse, and said the only disappointment was Smarty's unfilled potential.

"When you get injured early in your career, no one ever really knows what you could have done," he said.

Smarty's tale touched many fans, some of whom had never watched a race before. Betty Ann Stewart Jones, of Medford, N.J., made her first trip to Philly Park and planned to visit him in Kentucky. She recalled watching the Belmont while gripping a Sacred Heart plaque in one hand and a rosary in another. When Smarty finished second, the tears started flowing and they returned on Saturday. Smarty gave fan Norma Sears, of Jenkintown, Pa., an optimism she rarely felt since needing a wheelchair.

"He gave me a reason to be happy and forget about a lot of other things the last few months," she said.

Track announcer Keith Jones had been practicing his throaty call for a Smarty victory in the Pennsylvania Derby. Instead, he was left recapping the colt's career during the ceremony. Families and race veterans plopped down their money for the usual list of memorabilia. Some even took a swig at a new concoction, the Absolut Smarty, a mix of vodka, Blue Pucker liqueur and lemonade. Who needs the mint julep? As the final Smarty party wound down, Servis reminded everyone this was more than a one-horse town.

Associated Press


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