The race itself, Stewart Elliott still insists, was like most any other.

"You're just riding," Elliott said. "It doesn't sound right, but you're just riding a race."

Even if it's the Kentucky Derby, and you're riding in it for the first time, on a favorite named Smarty Jones.

If all that's true, if there's no moment to process what's happening, even in the final strides, the result hits you like an emotional ton of bricks, when you realize you've ridden it correctly and won the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

"I stood up at the finish line," Elliott said last week from Kentucky. "It was like I left the horse for a minute."

Ten years ago, Elliott was a big part of the Smarty Jones story line at Churchill Downs. The owners and trainer of one of the favorites were sticking with a 39-year-old jockey who mostly rode in claiming races at Philadelphia Park.

Even though he won aboard a lot of those claimers, even now Elliott says: "They could have rode anybody they wanted. They gave me the chance. I was so thankful, to stick with me."

Elliott went straight back to Philadelphia Park and was riding horses for trainer John Servis and others as recently as last fall. He has just made a big move, to Kentucky, full-time. He has had a strong meet at Keeneland, and will be at Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park for the rest of the year.

He makes it clear that Smarty changed everything for him.

"It helped my business," Elliott said. "A lot of people knew me from riding on the East Coast. But I had never really ridden at Monmouth - I was at New York a little bit. Mostly East Coast people knew me. When the Derby happened, everybody sees that. I got business from all over the country."

Smarty Jones went on to romp in the Preakness before falling a length short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

"He never settled in the race," Elliott said. "You know when you ride a horse, you know if you're in a position to win. I knew going into the first turn, this was bad."

Another factor was "those horses pressing him," as Elliott puts it, but Elliott and Servis both say they knew that would be the case. Servis, in fact, had predicted it.

Asked about tangible symbols from that Smarty run, Elliott talked about how he had sold his house in Washington Crossing and bought a 20-acre farm just over on the Jersey side. Now, he's trying to sell that. His wife is from Kentucky.

"Kentucky is cheaper, much cheaper," Elliott said. "I can buy a place here, almost like what I had, for much less. Everything is cheaper, the taxes, everything."

Call it the Smarty Jones Pension Plan.

"I am able to put more away for my retirement," said this jockey, still riding strong at age 49.

@jensenoffcampus