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Smarty Sure Is Something

Horse has some experts believing that he belongs among the best

June 03, 2004|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Like countless other handicappers around the world, Andy Beyer thought Smarty Jones, despite his perfect record, was a good-but-not-great racehorse.

His opinion didn't change even after Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby.

But Beyer, a prolific author and the creator of the speed figures that appear in the Daily Racing Form, has a different take these days.

The way Smarty Jones easily dispatched his rivals in the Preakness has Beyer believing that the Pennsylvania-bred colt would be a worthy Triple Crown winner. This is not something he had felt about some of the others who in recent years have been one victory away from horse racing's ultimate prize.

"Over the last few years, I haven't been able to cheer wholeheartedly for the horses shooting for the Triple Crown because the likes of Funny Cide and War Emblem did not belong on a short list with Secretariat and Citation," Beyer said.

"But I think Smarty Jones would be worthy. Not only is he unbeaten, but his Beyer speed figure of 118 in the Preakness equaled the second-best performance in a Triple Crown race since we started publishing our figures in 1987."

A Beyer rating, by definition, "reflects the time of the race and the inherent speed of the track over which it was run."

Summer Squall, who won the Preakness in 1990, and Silver Charm, who won at Pimlico in 1997, both earned a rating of 118. The highest figure, 122, was earned by Easy Goer in his 1989 when he won the Belmont Stakes by beating Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence by eight lengths.

In his Preakness win, Smarty Jones ran the 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.59. Detractors have pointed out that the time was more than two seconds off the race record, but experts say that comparing times over the years can be tricky business.

More relevant, analysts suggest, is that the day before -- over a track that was similar -- Southern Image, a 4-year-old whose stakes victories include the Santa Anita Handicap, won the Pimlico Special in 1:55.89. It is very rare for a 3-year-old to run faster than older horses at this stage of the year.

Even so, Beyer says he believes that Smarty Jones' performances after the Triple Crown are what will ultimately determine his place in history.

"Assuming he wins Saturday, he still has more to prove to establish himself as one of the all-time greats since he's been beating fairly undistinguished 3-year-olds," Beyer said. "But I think he'll at least prove that he deserves to be on a list of the sport's elite."

Laffit Pincay Jr., who retired last year as racing's winningest rider, is well acquainted with the last three winners of the Triple Crown. Aboard Sham, he chased Secretariat unsuccessfully in Kentucky, Maryland and New York in 1973; he rode against Seattle Slew in 1977; and became the regular rider for 1978 winner Affirmed later in that chestnut's career.

Giving Smarty Jones high praise, Pincay said the son of Elusive Quality reminded him of Affirmed.

"He has speed, but, like with Affirmed, you can take him back and not worry," Pincay said. "You can do anything you want with him.

"I definitely think he belongs among the greats. He just goes out there and does his thing."

Ron McAnally, a Hall of Fame trainer who has worked with superstars such as John Henry, Bayakoa and Paseana, was at Oaklawn Park when Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby. He was impressed then -- and again with how easily Smarty Jones handled his opponents in the Preakness.

"This winter at Santa Anita, [former jockey] Corey Black told me about a horse he had worked that he was very, very high on," McAnally said. "Corey's a pretty good judge and I value his opinion and the horse that he was talking about was Rock Hard Ten.

"For Smarty Jones to beat Rock Hard Ten the way he did," -- by 11 1/2 lengths -- "he's a darn good horse. I think if he stays sound he could become one of the greats. It's difficult to see him getting beat in the Belmont.

"I love his action and the way he's been able to toy with those horses. He reminds me a lot of Candy Ride," a horse McAnally trains and the winner of last year's Pacific Classic. "He doesn't have to have the lead because he will rate off the pace. He's a very, very good horse."

Before he retired in 2002, Chris McCarron won the Kentucky Derby twice with Alysheba and Go For Gin, rode many other superstars, and kept Silver Charm from winning the Triple Crown with a Belmont victory aboard Touch Gold seven years ago.

Now the general manager at Santa Anita, McCarron said he believed that Smarty Jones was Triple Crown worthy.

"He can be mentioned in the same breath with other horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid," he said. "I love his attitude and demeanor and the way he conducts himself.

"I was at the barn about an hour before the Preakness and there was all kinds of media there and this horse never seemed flustered. He was the same way in Kentucky. He's as professional as a horse can be."

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