LOUISVILLE, Ky. — First-time jockeys hardly ever win the Kentucky Derby. Before Saturday, only one Pennsylvania-bred had ever won the Derby. Undefeated horses have a way of stumbling in the Derby. Favorites in the Derby do even worse.
But nobody passed on any of these drawbacks to Smarty Jones, who put the lie to the historical obstacles as he mowed down Lion Heart in the stretch and completed a 2 3/4-length win in the 130th Derby before 140,054 at rain-battered Churchill Downs.
On a sloppy track that was hard-hit by rain much of the day, Stewart Elliott rode unbeaten Smarty Jones to his seventh straight victory. An undefeated horse hadn't won the Derby since Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown champion of 1977, and seven had failed in the interim.
"There are no words for this," said the 39-year-old Elliott, who had never won a race richer than $200,000 before. Smarty Jones earned $5,854,800 -- $5 million of that a bonus paid by Oaklawn Park for his sweeping the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby there and also winning the Kentucky Derby.
Running 1 1/4 miles in 2:04 -- slowest time since Sunday Silence won in the mud in 1989 -- Smarty Jones won what turned into a two-horse race and paid $10.20 as only the second favorite to win the Derby in 25 years. Lion Heart, whose stamina had been questioned in pre-race analyses, was a gritty second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Imperialism, with Limehouse fourth. Following them across the wire in the 18-horse field were The Cliff's Edge, the morning-line favorite who went off at 8-1, Action This Day, Read The Footnotes, Birdstone, Tapit, Borrego, Song Of The Sword, Master David, Pro Prado, Castledale, Friends Lake, Minister Eric, Pollard's Vision and Quintons Gold Rush.
Elliott, who has ridden Smarty Jones in all seven races, justified the support he received from trainer John Servis and Patricia and Roy Chapman, who bred and race the colt. Before Saturday, Elliott was hardly a household word. He had won more than 3,000 races, and dominated minor league Philadelphia Park for the last four years, but seldom rode in a race of national import.
"He gave my horse a masterful ride," said the 45-year-old Servis, another Philadelphia Park regular, who was starting his first Derby horse. "Stewart's phone will be ringing off the hook now. I might not be getting him to ride for me in Philadelphia anymore. He can go anywhere he wants now."
After Smarty Jones broke from a stall that was inside only five horses, Elliott placed him in contention as Lion Heart, as expected, went to the lead. Down the backstretch, Smarty Jones tracked Lion Heart, inside of Minister Eric and Quintons Gold Rush. Those two horses faded quickly, leaving the race to Lion Heart and Smarty Jones. With a quarter-mile left, there was a gap of four lengths between the two leaders and Read The Footnotes in third place.
"He left the gate more relaxed than he's ever been," said Elliott, who is the first "rookie" Derby jockey to win the race since Ronnie Franklin aboard Spectacular Bid in 1979. "I nudged him to get a good position, and he did the rest. At the three-eighths pole, we were biding our time. Lion Heart was ahead of us, but I had a loaded gun underneath me. When we passed Lion Heart [inside the eighth pole], I knew a horse would have to come running to get us."
Lion Heart, who had never won beyond 1 1/16 miles, has been second in all three starts this year.
"I had a great trip and had every opportunity to beat him, but Smarty Jones just had another gear today," said Mike Smith, Lion Heart's jockey. "I thought I had enough horse to hold him off. I tried to get away from him, and he hung with me, so I knew it was going to be a dogfight to the end. Everything worked to a 'T,' but I didn't win."
Kent Desormeaux, the rider of Imperialism, is looking forward to a possible rematch with Smarty Jones, which is expected to come in the Preakness at Pimlico on May 15.
"I'm the kind of jockey who likes to run out of horse at the sixteenth pole," Desormeaux said, "then get into my bag of tricks and figure out a way to get them to win anyway. But today I went under the wire with a horse that had a ton of run left. The reason that happened was that all around the [far turn] -- for about 200 yards, I'd say -- I was about frozen in my position. The horses around me weren't going anywhere. I finally decided that I had to go out and around, and when I did, the horse cut it loose. But I'd given him too much to do. I didn't want it that way, but that's how it turned out."
The Cliff's Edge, who had beaten Lion Heart in the Blue Grass at Keeneland three weeks ago, was fifth, but he was 12 1/2 lengths back of the winner.