When Pat Chapman considered bringing Smarty Jones back to the track he made famous, she wanted to do it to recapture all the great memories from 2004 and for all the fans who were so loyal to her horse then and have remained loyal all these years.
Still, she knew when you are dealing with an 18-year-old horse stepping onto a race track for the first time since Aug. 14, 2004, after a two-hour van ride from his home at Equistar Farm in Annville, Pa., problems could arise.
Turned out Monday at Parx was just how Chapman imagined, maybe even better. Smarty arrived at his trainer John Servis’ barn around noon. There was a downpour that began about 45 minutes before Smarty’s scheduled appearance, not nearly as intense as the monsoon that came a few hours before Smarty won the Kentucky Derby, but a reminder nonetheless of that day at Churchill Downs.
The skies cleared for Smarty’s appearance shortly after 5 p.m. When the horse began to walk up the homestretch with Equistar owner Rodney Eckenrode on one side and his former groom Mario Arriaga on the other, the fans began to cheer and never really stopped. One woman from North Carolina was there 15 years ago for Smarty’s sendoff to Kentucky. She drove back up to see him again.
When Smarty passed the winner’s circle on his way to the walking ring, Chapman joined the walk. It was not planned. It just happened.
“When he got close to the winner’s circle,” she said, “And I saw Mario, I’ve said I’ve got to go say hi to Mario. I said the heck with this, I’ve got to take that walk with him.”
So she did.
Feelings are difficult to replicate, but that was the idea. It worked.
“I had no idea what to hope for,” Chapman said. “It really met anything I could hope for. I thought it was a great day, a great turnout. Loved the fans, loved seeing them, loved hearing them yell, `Smarty! Smarty!’ It was so thrilling.”
Smarty Jones raced nine times in a career that lasted 209 days -- Nov. 9, 2003-June 5, 2004. He won seven stakes races, including the Derby and the Preakness (by 11 1/2 lengths, the largest margin in the race’s history). The colt ran his way onto the cover of Sports Illustrated and won eight times overall by a combined 47 1/2 lengths.
Smarty Jones paraded between the two biggest races on the day, the $300,00 Turf Monster and the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes.
The 8-year-old sensation, Pure Sensation, won the Turf Monster for the fourth time in five years. The only time he did not win, he did not run. He has won the Parx Dash three times. The horse has appeared at Parx eight times, with seven wins and a third.
When Parx-based Spun to Run won a tremendous stretch duel with Gray Magician to take the Smarty Jones Stakes, it was the perfect ending to Smarty Jones Day.
Local trainer Carlos Guerrero won the first graded stakes of his career with a horse he has always believed in.
“This is my track, my first graded stakes win,” said a jubilant Guerrero. “I was screaming, I knew he had it in him.”
In fact, Guerrero believes in the horse so much he may bring him back to run against some of the country’s best 3-year-olds in the Sept. 21 $1-million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.
“I want to see how he [recovers]," Guerrero said. “If all is well, I don’t see why not.”
Spun to Run’s win was a perfect tribute to Smarty Jones, the best horse ever stabled at Parx, the best horse ever born in Pennsylvania, one of the best horses to race anywhere in the 21st Century.
Smarty Jones was a brilliant racehorse, but there was something else going on that spring of 2004. The horse simply made people feel good. He still does.
“It was great to see the crowd and how much they enjoyed it,” Servis said. “It was pretty sweet. It was fun, great to see him here.”
Smarty Jones has not forgotten Servis either. When he heard his voice in the barn area, he "called out” for his trainer.
Smarty Jones took several tours of the walking ring before heading to the Parx winner’s circle for a brief ceremony. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness trophies he won for Pat and her late husband Roy were nearby. As were so many people who became horse racing fans because of Smarty Jones and have never wavered in their devotion to the horse.