By Dick Jerardi
It has been 15 years since Smarty Jones was getting ready to make his debut at what was then called Philadelphia Park. The last Saturday of August at Parx, the first day of racing after a 2 1/2-week break, the greatest horse bred in Pennsylvania was honored at his home track with what has become an annual tradition, Smarty Jones Day.
Smarty’s owner Pat Chapman was there to present the trophy for the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (G3). It is an honor she treasures.
“It always makes me feel really good (to be back),” Chapman said.
Smarty is in Uruguay these days as he shuttles between South America and Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., depending on the breeding seasons. However, there will be a change of venue for next year’s Northern Hemisphere breeding season.
“He hasn’t been breeding a lot of mares in Kentucky so he’s going to come back to Pennsylvania, give that one more try before he retires,” Chapman said. “They really, really love him (in Uruguay).”
This is Smarty’s second year in South America and he will likely go back again next year.
Smarty Jones will always be a 3-year-old, forever young to anybody who followed that once-in-a-lifetime saga in 2004. The reality is that the horse is now 17, a stallion since 2005, and always a horse racing hero.
Pat Chapman presented this year’s Smarty Jones Stakes trophy to the connections of Indiana Derby winner Axelrod, who is based in Southern California with trainer Michael McCarthy. He will almost certainly return to Parx on Sept. 22 for the $1 million Grade I Pennsylvania Derby.
John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones, had the second- and third-place finishers in the Smarty Jones, Diamond King and First Mondays. But it was Axelrod who rolled by the field in the stretch to win convincingly. It seemed only appropriate that Axelrod was ridden by Joe Bravo, who began his career at Parx 30 years ago.
Just before the Smarty Jones, the $100,000 Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup was run at Parx. It was won decisively by Aztec Sense who is now 6-for-6 in 2018, with earnings of $208,000. Not bad for a horse that was claimed for $12,500 on Aug. 7, 2017.
Joe Besecker, a great supporter of Pennsylvania racing, owns Aztec Sense who is trained by Jorge Navarro. Park Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche came in from Saratoga for the ride.
“It’s always good to come back home,” Carmouche said.
The two stakes-winning jockeys from Smarty Jones Day, one who got started at Parx and the other who made his name at the track, have combined to win 8,402 races.
Neither got a chance to ride Smarty Jones. That was all Parx Hall of Famer Stewart Elliott in the irons for the great horse’s nine races — at six tracks, with earnings of $7,613,155, and never passed until the final 50 yards of his final race, the only loss in a career that was perfect in every way but the final record.