Even before the Kentucky Derby, some were saying that Smarty Jones' story was fit for Hollywood. A year after the release of Seabiscuit, it seems appropriate that he would go on to win the Run for the Roses as the 4-1 favorite. Let's take a look at how the horse, his owner, his trainer, and his jockey came together and made history on May 1.
Smarty Jones was bred at Someday Farm near Philadelphia by his owner, Roy Chapman. He was foaled on February 28, 2001. His sire is Elusive Quality who performed best at distances up to a mile, setting a 7 furlong track record at Gulfstream Park and a world record at 1 mile on turf at Belmont Park. His dam, I'll Get Along, was primarily a sprinter and was sired by champion sprinter Smile. Despite these influences, his Dosage Index of 3.40 suggested that he could get the 1 1/4 mile distance of the Derby. He was named after Chapman's mother-in-law whose nickname was Smarty.
Soon after Smarty Jones was foaled, Roy Chapman's trainer Bob Camac and his wife were murdered at their New Jersey farm, causing Chapman to consider getting out of the racing business altogether. He sold all of his racing stock except for two horses, one of which was Smarty Jones. Chapman said, "we had some blood stock agents that were looking at other horses we were getting rid of and they did want to buy Smarty, but he was out in the field with his mama. I, thank God, decided to keep him and not sell him. He just had that look in his eye." Those two horses were sent to Florida to be broken for racing, and then were returned to Philadelphia to the barn of John Servis, a friend of Camac. Servis, a native of Charles Town, West Virginia, scored his first win as a trainer in 1984 at Philadelphia, where his stable is still based. His last Grade 1 winning horse was Jostle in the 2000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park and the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.
As a 2-year-old, during a schooling session at the starting gate at Philadelphia Park in July in preparation for his first career start, Smarty Jones reared up and slammed his head on an unpadded iron bar, fracturing his skull and shattering his orbital (eye socket) bones. Trainer John Servis said at the time, "Oh my God, this horse just killed himself." The accident nearly caused him to lose his left eye. It seems ironic now that two of the other entrants in Saturday's Derby were lacking sight in one eye and Smarty Jones could have been the third.
After months of care at the New Jersey Equine Clinic, he finally made it back to Philadelphia on November 9, winning by 7 3/4 lengths in his debut. In his second start just two weeks later, he romped by 15 lengths. Servis said at the time to Chapman, "This is a nice horse. This horse could go somewhere." Chapman said, "John, only thing I want to go to, a horse like this I want to go to the Derby."
His owner said, "He laid me out a plan, and that day, I swear to you as I sit here, that day, here is what we are doing with this horse, and if he goes the way we'll say he goes, he'll go to the Derby. He did not deviate one inch. He ran it just the way he was going to run it that day. So without the Servis team, and Smarty's talents, we would not be here." Here being the Derby winner's circle. Chapman spends his winters in Florida and briefly questioned why Servis wanted to winter in Arkansas instead. Servis answered, "Yes, that's a good place to train, there are some races out there that I think he can do well in, and we'll get to the Derby." Those races conveniently included the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, which set Smarty Jones up for the $5 million payday.