Greatness under my nose – the legacy of Smarty Jones is literally within my grasp

17 Oct

Smarty Jones (3 of 5)

I was in the same room this week with a gold trophy from the Kentucky Derby and a silver trophy from the Preakness. The woman who owns them complained that she was forever polishing the silver one. It tarnishes so easily, she said.

She must use a lot of muscle because the shine was spectacular. The etched-in name of the winning horse was easy to read: “Smarty Jones.”

Smarty Jones (4 of 5)Smarty was indisputably the most popular horse of his era. I knew his story well because I was a newspaper editor in 2004 when this local three-year-old became the first undefeated horse since Seattle Slew to win the Derby. He went on to win the Preakness but came in second at Belmont after three jockeys and their horses ganged up on him and ran him down in the backstretch.

What I didn’t know was his owner lives down the street from me.

While she is a well-known figure in horse racing and has been written about widely, I’m not going to mention her name as a polite gesture to a neighbor.

But I will say she is a wonderful woman who loves talking about her favorite horse. Clearly, she is down to earth. Smarty won her more than $7 million (not counting the stud fees from the last 10 years) yet she hasn’t hired anyone to shine his trophies.

Smarty Jones (1 of 5)My neighbor knows the story of Smarty is a great tale of unexpected triumph. With little coaxing she will tell you every aspect of it.

  • How John Servis, Smarty’s able trainer, got the job after his predecessor was murdered.
  • How Smarty nearly killed himself when he hit his head on a starting gate, knocking himself out, losing blood and nearly going blind.
  • How the horse’s spunk and personality drew thousands of newcomers to racing, increased TV viewership of racing and garnered the owner sacks and sacks of fan mail, which on occasion she sits down and re-reads.

One of her best stories is about stopping into a market to buy Folgers coffee. Smarty had already won two legs of the Triple Crown and she had used her Visa for hotel rooms at the two events, meals for gangs of people and food and beverages for celebratory parties. So there wasn’t enough on it to buy the coffee. Visa, the company that sponsors the races her horse won, had cut her off.

The 129th Preakness StakesLater, during a VIP affair at the Belmont, she met a bunch of Visa execs and told them of her embarrassment at the market. As a consolation, they offered her a credit card with no limit, which she turned down, and a can of Folgers, which she accepted.

My neighbor won’t be hanging around the neighborhood much longer. She is bound for Florida and her horses. I wish her well and look forward to seeing her again. Still, I wonder who is going to polish the trophies while she’s gone.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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