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Smarty Jones having a ball standing stud in his home state

YORK, Pa. - The stall the great horse left at Philadelphia Park in the summer of 2004 is 108 miles from the stall he occupies now at Ghost Ridge Farms. Get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bensalem, cruise out to Exit 286, head south 20 miles on Route 222

By the time he is finished in 2011, Smarty Jones will have been bred to 200 mares. (James Crisp/AP file photo)
By the time he is finished in 2011, Smarty Jones will have been bred to 200 mares. (James Crisp/AP file photo)Read more

YORK, Pa. - The stall the great horse left at Philadelphia Park in the summer of 2004 is 108 miles from the stall he occupies now at Ghost Ridge Farms. Get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bensalem, cruise out to Exit 286, head south 20 miles on Route 222 to Lancaster, cut another 20 miles southwest to York on Route 30 while crossing the Susquehanna, get off at the Pa. 462 exit, take a left on Kreutz Creek Road (State Route 2001), pass the Frosty Freeze, continue as the name changes to Freysville Road, make a right on Ness Road, another right on Dietz Road and there, on the left, the now 10-year-old horse resides, living a very nice life, sharing a road with a suburban subdivision and a barn with three stallions that make Ghost Ridge the home of the best sires outside of Kentucky.

It really has been 7 years since the most accomplished horse born in Pennsylvania won the Preakness by the largest margin in the history of the race.

Smarty Jones was born in Chester County, trained in Bucks County and now lives in York County. But there was never any doubt the first unbeaten winner of the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977 was Philadelphia's horse.

It's eerily quiet at the stallion barn now, 5 days before the 2011 Preakness, as the breeding season begins to wind down, nothing like that Saturday last November when hundreds of cars and thousands of fans streamed into Ghost Ridge to welcome Smarty home after 6 years at Three Chimneys in Kentucky.

"I wasn't 100 percent sure of how many people would come, but the turnout was spectacular," said farm manager Carl McEntee who is from England and knows every bit of the horse business. "It was the homecoming that he deserved."

Smarty's owner Pat Chapman wanted to bring her great horse home where the saga began and the breeders would support him.

In his final year in Kentucky, Smarty Jones was bred to less than 50 mares. By the time he is finished in 2011, he will have been bred to 200 mares.

"Smarty is a very, very fertile horse and a very good breeding horse," McEntee said. "You're in and out in 5 minutes. He loves his job. He's the type of horse that has to be bred every week during the offseason to keep everything flowing."

Stallion manager Danny Suttle, a very experienced 23-year-old, gave two visitors a tour of the stallion barn, showing off the holding area where the mares are readied, the huge breeding shed where the mares get jumped by the teaser stallions before the real stallion is led in to do his work.

Smarty shares a barn with Jump Start, E Dubai and Grand Reward.

"Smarty's a rock star," Suttle said. "If he ran the Belmont as fast as he breeds, we'd have a Triple Crown winner."

The 2004 Belmont Stakes was the only race Smarty ever lost. It was also the final race of a career that began at Philadelphia Park in November, ended at Belmont Park in June and resulted in earnings of $7,613,155. It may not have lasted long, but the memories from the two races at his home track, the one at Aqueduct, the three in Arkansas, one in Kentucky, one in Maryland and one on Long Island will last for generations.

"The horse is still a very good sire," McEntee said. "As fickle as the thoroughbred industry is right now, for the breeding they used to give horses a little bit more time. Everything is so fad oriented now that horses go hot and cold so quickly."

Smarty's third crop of horses are 3-year-olds. He is fifth overall for the generation that entered stud in 2005. He has sired some solid horses, winners of $4.3 million worldwide, but nothing remotely like him, no champions, no horses capable of getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated and coming within an excruciating length of the Triple Crown.

Just as Smarty's first foals were getting to the track, the national economy was collapsing. Whatever was felt in the wider world was felt 10 times worse in the breeding business. It simply imploded.

There was just one state in the country where racing and breeding were booming - Pennsylvania. The slots law (Act 71), enacted in July 2004 and something Gov. Rendell always contended might not have happened without the momentum from Smarty's spring tour de force, vaulted the business in the commonwealth into the stratosphere.

Two new tracks (Harrah's Chester and Presque Isle Downs in Erie) were built. Penn National's grandstand was torn down and a modern casino/track rose in its place. The Philadelphia Park plant was refurbished and renamed Parx Racing. The barn areas are being renovated. Purses have more than doubled. At a time when every other state's foal crop has declined, Pennsylvania's has nearly doubled since 2004. There is the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and the $1 million Pa. Day at the Races for Pa. breds.

Pennsylvania had a proud history with wonderful runners and sires like Storm Cat and Danzig, the brilliant filly Go for Wand, Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, the great sprinter Fabulous Strike and steeplechase legend Flatterer.

Now, the state has 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, foaled at Mark Reid's Walnut Green Farm in Chester County. Another Derby winner can't be far behind. Another Smarty Jones? Well, there is only one like that.

With slots money, Pennsylvania breds are a hot commodity because of the purse enhancements. That led to farm investment. Tarry Bratton of Ghost Ridge became a major player. Now, his farm has Smarty Jones.

Jump Start's son Pants on Fire ran in the Derby. Smarty's son Concealed Identity ran in the Preakness.

"If we could have a representative of one of our stallions in each of the Triple Crown races for a regional program that's huge," McEntee said. "It means a lot for us when you're selling seasons and trying to promote your stallions. Two weeks ago, we had three horses in the top 30 nationally when I was looking at the list, all I could see was Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky and then all of a sudden, three Pa's in there [Jump Start, E Dubai and Smarty]."

By the end of June, Smarty will have been bred to about 100 mares this year. In July, Smarty will be flown to Uruguay, where he will be bred to approximately 100 mares during the Southern Hemisphere breeding season.

Shuttling stallions is quite common these days, but it will be the first time Smarty has done it. So, when the foals bred this year get to the races in 2014, Smarty will have four times as many new horses on the way to the track then as he will have in 2013.

"Coming off a couple of small crops in Kentucky, he kind of needs a big crop to help him get back there," McEntee said.

Just so nobody gets the wrong impression, McEntee said: "[Smarty's] not leaving, he's going and coming back."

He will just get to perform twice as often.

"His fertility is unbelievable," McEntee said. "I think we had one or two horses come back not in foal first go. The national average is 60 percent."

After breeding, they know within 15 days if a mare is in foal. The gestation period is 11 months.

If the demand is there, a Ghost Ridge stallion breeds three times a day - 9 a.m., 1 p.m. 7 p.m.

"A stallion needs 4 hours to recuperate," Suttle said.

Smarty is efficient, but not much for foreplay.

"It's 6 seconds from start to finish," Suttle said. "Smarty will just walk away - it's all about me. Other horses will half fall asleep."

Suttle grew up in Camden, Ark., 2 hours south of Hot Springs where Smarty bloomed at Oaklawn Park. While a high school student, he drove up to see the colt win the Rebel Stakes.

"A lot of heart in a small body," Suttle said. "I'm kind of following him around."

Suttle, who has been working with stallions since he was 15, also worked at Three Chimneys.

Smarty is turned out for several hours each day in a paddock behind his barn. He will dig out a hole about twice his size and then roll around in it.

Pat Chapman was at Ghost Ridge the day of the November open house. She splits time between houses in Florida and Doylestown.

"It's so much better than it would have been in Kentucky," she said. "That's what I wanted. I wanted him to meet some more of these mares. He's doing it the hard way with less runners than some of the other stallions have."

Smarty simply wasn't getting much of a chance in Kentucky. And if a stallion does not get a chance, he has no chance.

"I'm sure I made a lot of mistakes along the way because this is something I had never done before," Chapman said. "I thought I was doing the right thing by limiting his book. I certainly have not helped his career, so hopefully this will. It felt right at the time. If we had gotten a lot of stakes winners in those first couple of crops, it would have worked out."

Just before the Derby draw, much of the coverage from Smarty's Derby was shown on Versus. Pat Chapman watched it and relived it.

"It just brought back a flood of memories," she said. "Seeing 'Chap' and knowing the struggle he was going through, but being so pleased that he had the chance to live that dream of his. Nobody will know how hard that was for him physically to be there, the effort it took. It brought all that back."

Roy Chapman died Feb. 17, 2006, after a long battle with emphysema. He spent the Smarty Saga in that wheelchair tethered to an oxygen tank.

The only time he ever questioned his trainer John Servis was when he wanted to stick with jockey Stewart Elliott for the Derby. Servis assured it would work out fine. The trainer was right, of course.

Servis and Elliott are right where they were when this all began - the trainer in his Parx Racing box, overlooking the track, a few furlongs from his home, Elliott in the jockeys' room, still riding winners, 4,000 in his rearview mirror, 5,000 on the horizon.

Both visited Smarty several times in Kentucky, but have not yet been out to see him in York. They will be going soon.

Servis watched that Versus show, too.

"The most amazing thing with that was looking at my youngest, Tyler, how small he was," Servis said. "He is 6-foot, 180 pounds now."

The trainer still wins his fair share. He just has not been back to the big races. Once he broke up with longtime owner Rick Porter, getting back was always going to be difficult.

Servis bought Hard Spun, the 2007 Derby runner-up, for Porter. Could be training the brilliant filly Havre de Grace for Porter.

"We still have a barn full of horses," Servis said. "We get young horses every year, we don't get the young ones we used to get obviously when I had the financial backing we had before.

"I'm very happy. I would certainly go again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself."

Playing the game at the top level is all about access. Smarty was the exception that proved the rule. The little Pa. bred was never supposed to be a champion. He just was.

"You're envious not having those kinds of horses because it sure makes it very easy to get up in the morning," Servis said. "Again, I'm very comfortable with the life that I'm living. I don't have to answer to anybody where I'm at, or what I'm doing that particular day. It's all good."

Servis still goes to horse sales regularly. He understands every aspect of the business.

"[Smarty] wasn't being well received in Kentucky," he said. "He will be a huge boost for the Pa. program. The three horses that I have that are by him, they're all solid, hard-knocking, they're not super horses. Whatever they run for, they run hard every time you lead them over there. There's something to be said for a stallion like that."

Smarty ran hard and crazy-fast.

"If he wants to throw me another one, I'll be tickled to death especially if it was out of my mare," Servis said.

Back then, "I never really felt [pressure]. I know I had the horse," Servis said.

Elliott should have felt pressure in the Derby. He just never showed it. Nor did he ride like it. His cool under fire heading into the first turn gave Smarty a chance to show what he had. The little horse had two horses to his inside and two to his outside.

"He wasn't a real big horse and he had to stay in there," Elliott said. "If he'd of backed out on me a little bit going into the first turn, it probably would have been the end of it. We had to hold our ground."

They did. Horse and rider did the rest.

Elliott, now 46, has ridden in two more Derbies, both on hopeless longshots. Like Servis, he is quite happy with his life.

Living in Lambertville, N.J., with a 5-year-old son Christopher, he said: "Everything is good. I really like where I live. It's a half an hour to the track. Purses are good year-round and I'm home."

So, he rides on.

"I just take it year by year," Elliott said. "When it gets to the point where my business has slowed up and I'm just going through the motions, I'll just pack it in. I figure I can ride until I'm 50."

He is not expecting to ride anything like Smarty Jones again.

"I have ridden some decent horses, but nothing like him," Elliott said. "It was a chance in a lifetime to get on a horse like that because we knew the opportunity was there."

The final 100 yards of the Derby?

"I was just riding him like any other race," Elliott remembered. "It didn't hit me until a jump after the wire. It was an unexplainable feeling. It was just like I left the planet for a second there."

Smarty Jones, the racehorse, ran like he was from another planet. Smarty Jones, the sire, has made the round trip from Pennsylvania to Kentucky and back, less than a 2-hour ride from where the racing began. *