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Smarty Jones all alone at the finish.
The 130th Kentucky Derby was contested under less than ideal conditions. Heavy overnight rains rendered the track muddy early in the card, then brief sunshine dried it back to fast condition, until a thunderstorm two hours before post time downgraded it yet again to sloppy. 140,054 braved the downpour, and most were rewarded when the favorite came home first.
After two scratches, eighteen went to post with the undefeated Smarty Jones was sent off as the lukewarm 4-1 favorite, winner of the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes. When the gate opened, Mike Smith sent 5-1 second choice Lion Heart straight to the front and toward the rail for a ground-saving trip around the two turns of Churchill Downs. A tightly bunched pack settled in behind him past the Spires the first time, with Smarty Jones in tight between horses. Lion Heart led the field around the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch, through brisk fractions of 22.99, 46.73, and 1:11.80. After six furlongs, jockey Stewart Elliott gently asked Smarty Jones for his run to not let the pacesetter sneak away. He drew even with Lion Heart at the quarter pole after a mile in 1:37.35, and the pair dueled for most of the stretch. With a furlong to go, Elliott went to the whip and Smarty Jones responded, grabbing the lead and drawing away to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 2:04.06. It was another 3 1/4 lengths back from Lion Heart to 11-1 shot Imperialism in third, who closed well from 17th early. It was 2 lengths back from him to Limehouse to round out the superfecta. Morning-line favorite The Cliff's Edge closed from 16th to finish fifth while Action This Day closed from dead last to finish sixth.
Having won the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby, Smarty Jones won a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park, along with the $854,800 winner's share of the Derby's $1,154,800 purse. It was the first win in as many starts in the Kentucky Derby for owner Roy Chapman, trainer John Servis, and jockey Stewart Elliott, who are based at Philadelphia Park. Smarty Jones is the second Pennsylvania-bred to win the Derby, after Lil E. Tee. He is also the first unbeaten Derby winner since Seattle Slew, who went on to win the Triple Crown, and only the fifth ever to achieve the feat.
There were five other stakes on the Derby card. Full results with photos for them are here.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 15 Smarty Jones Elliott 10.20 6.20 4.80 3 Lion Heart Smith 8.20 5.80 10 Imperialism Desormeaux 6.20 Winning Time: 2:04.06 $2 Exacta 15-3 65.20 $2 Trifecta 15-3-10 987.60 $2 Superfecta 15-3-10-1 41,380.20
Smarty Jones with the Derby Roses. Jockey Stewart Elliott said, "It is just unbelievable. We bunched up a bit on the first turn but things turned out great. It was a good trip. I crossed the wire and I can't explain it; There aren't words to describe it. At the three-eighths pole, I knew I had a loaded gun underneath me. I was just going to sit until he straightened up and switched leads. He really went to running." Owner Roy Chapman said, "To see a horse that was born on the farm that we had and look at the stall he was born, I'm still a little nervous. We have an awful lot of horses, had an awful lot of fun, and sometimes you have to cheer loud when you have a $10,000 claimer winner as any. You love them all. But no, we've never raced at this level. Never thought we would get here, until we met Smarty and this guy (trainer John Servis) sitting next to me.
Eventual second place finisher Lion Heart leads the way first time past the finish line. Smarty Jones is in the line of horses behind him with the blue cap. Lion Heart's jockey Mike Smith said, "He heard the crowd roar and thought it was time to go. I had a great trip and had every opportunity to beat him, but Smarty Jones just had another gear today. I thought I had enough horse (to hold off Smarty Jones) at the 4 1/2. 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."
Smarty Jones in the post parade. Winning trainer John Servis said, "Man, that was great. That was a beautiful race. Picture perfect. An absolutely masterful ride. You know, when Stu reached back and really got after him and he started to pull away, it was just passed the eighth pole and the first thing I thought of, Bob Baffert told me: John, you've got a good horse. If you're fortunate enough to win the race, when they go past the eighth pole and you know you're going to win it, you're going to be overcome by a feeling that I can't explain to you, and you'll never -- you'll never get over it. Every race you run in will never be the same like the Kentucky Derby. He actually had a little bit of a tear in his eye telling us. When this horse came to the eighth pole, I was thinking about what he said. He's right, it was just overwhelming."
Second place finisher Lion Heart in the post parade. Trainer Patrick Biancone said, "We are very happy. He stayed the trip. He ran a big race. They all had to run over the same track conditions. I have great respect for the winner...he's a champion. I hope, if everything goes well, in two weeks we can get revenge. Perhaps we can have an Affirmed / Alydar rivalry."
Third place finisher Imperialism in the post parade. Jockey Kent Desormeaux said, "I'm the kind of jockey who likes to run out of horse at the sixteenth pole, 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 with a ton of run left in him. The reason that happened was that all around the turn - for about 200 yards I'd say - I was about frozen in my position. The horses all around me weren't going anywhere. I finally decided 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 it turned out that way." Trainer Kristin Mulhall added, "We're very pleased. Of course, it was great for us to be here. He didn't mind the muddy track, he handled it well. He got stuck on the inside, but when he was finally asked to move, he did great."
Todd Pletcher, trainer of fourth place finisher Limehouse (pictured here) and eighth place finisher Birdstone, said, "First of all I definitely would like to salute the winner. He ran great race and he's a champion. I hate making excuses and I know the fans hate it too, but The Cliff's Edge lost his two front shoes during the race. Due to that fact, you definitely have to give my horse a lot of credit. The little man (Birdstone) lost a shoe too, his left front. Sometimes you're a messenger for how this game works. Knock on wood, if Cliff is ok, hopefully the Preakness will be next. We'll probably not go with Birdstone."
Michael Dickinson, trainer of Tapit who finished ninth, inspects the track just before the Derby. He said, "Ramon (jockey, Dominguez) said he didn't handle the track. In his last race (Wood Memorial) he was just cruising. Ramon never had to ask him for his run. Today was different. The track was a little sticky for us. He never got running. Ramon said he was never running well enough to win. We'll either go in the Preakness or Belmont. We'll decide in about a week's time."
Photos courtesy of Tina Hines.
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