Five months ago Smarty Jones was busy rescuing the sagging horse racing industry. When he wasn't drawing hordes to the track (a crowd of 120,139--nearly 17,000 more than the previous record--crammed Belmont Park to see him try to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978) or viewers to their TVs (ratings for the Preakness were their highest since 1990, and the Belmont's numbers were the best since 1981), he was drawing comparisons to a certain hero-horse of seven decades ago. But unlike Seabiscuit, Smarty Jones didn't hang around long. An ankle injury forced his owners, Pat and Roy Chapman, to retire him to stud after he finished second in the Belmont.
So when the Breeders' Cup takes place on Saturday at Lone Star Park near Dallas, the brightest star in the equine world won't be looking to avenge his only loss and sew up the Horse of the Year award in the $4 million Classic. He'll be 900 miles away, lazing on the bluegrass lawns of Three Chimneys Farm, in Midway, Ky.--and without him the Breeders' Cup will barely register beyond the world of boots and saddles. Which is a shame, because the 13-horse Classic features:
•Birdstone, who won the Belmont at 36--1, handing Smarty his sole defeat in nine starts.
•Defending Classic champ Pleasantly Perfect, who could make a claim to beat Smarty Jones for Horse of the Year with a repeat, which would be his third 1 1/4-mile Grade I stakes victory this year.
•Funny Cide, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003.
•Roses in May, who's won all five of his 2004 starts.
While they battle, Smarty will be enjoying his life. Breeding season doesn't start until February (his fee is $100,000), so now he schmoozes the 200 fans who pay homage each day. "It's phenomenal," says Dan Rosenberg, president of Three Chimneys. "He loves visitors. He's a ham." If only he were performing on the main stage. --Mark Beech