Smarty Jones appears poised to take Triple Crown
Updated: Sunday May 16, 2004 2:26PM
By Mark Beech, SI.com
All the way around the racetrack, Lion Heart had set the pace, running about four wide off the rail. In the first turn, Smarty Jones had been carried wide when he'd run just off of Lion Heart's right flank. Going into the far turn, jockey Stewart Elliott made sure that wouldn't happen again. Taking a quick look to his left, he deftly steered Smarty behind Lion Heart and towards the rail, and the Philadelphia flyer took off.
"I figured if he had me out there, I may as well stay where I'm at until he gets down the backside," Elliott said later of his wide trip around the first turn. "I didn't want to have the rail left wide open, me getting carried out and them have clear sailing on the inside."
Smarty Jones cruises at such a high speed, that he rarely has to exert himself much to get into perfect stalking position. In the Preakness, despite waiting in the gate for several minutes when Rock Hard Ten refused to load, Smarty Jones broke very alertly. He cleared the field at a gallop, and loped along until Elliott asked him for a big run in the home stretch.
"He's become a push-button horse," said the jockey afterwards.
Based on his late run in the Kentucky Derby, Imperialism was thought by many to be a dangerous rival to Smarty Jones in the Preakness. That was not the case on Saturday, however, with jockey Kent Desormeaux putting Imperialism into the race too soon, gunning him up to third place as the field entered the first turn. By the time he'd completed his run down the backside, the gray colt was done, finishing a dull fifth without ever really making a move.
Kristin Mulhall, his trainer, had taken Imperialism back home to California after his third-place finish in Kentucky, intending to rest him for a few weeks. Owner Steve Taub, however, had other ideas, and decided to run Imperialism in Baltimore. He should have listened to his trainer.
"He's the kind of horse that lays back and makes one big move," Mulhall said after the race. "He didn't do that today."
After following the Triple Crown for Sports Illustrated for the last seven years -- in which time five horses have won the Derby and Preakness in the same year -- I am through guessing what will happen in the Belmont. The mile-and-a-half test is so different from anything these horses have ever done-or ever will do -- that it is an impossible race for me to predict.
I will say this: after the four previous Derby-Preakness doubles, I never heard racetrackers talk about a colt in the hushed tones that were reserved for Smarty Jones last night. "He will not be beaten," said one veteran handicapper. "He cannot be beaten." Who am I to argue?