Growing up in Baltimore, I was exposed to horse racing as part of the sporting culture. They gave the results on the radio and showed the highlights on television. Pimlico and Bowie were as familiar as Memorial Stadium as a sporting venues. I’ve been to the races and enjoyed them, but that doesn’t explain my fascination with thoroughbreds.
I’ve stood in the last turn for race after race, just to see the field come through and drive for the finish line. And not just to see it, but to hear it and fell it, the thundering of the pack, the charge of the herd as they turn for home. You can see a lot of things, and not experience anything like it.
A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago, “which horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby?” “I can’t remember his name,” I answered, “but whichever one won the Arkansas Derby.” That colt was Smarty Jones or perhaps more correctly that colt is Smarty Jones.
There’s an affection for winning thoroughbreds that’s reserved for them and nothing else. Maybe it’s the majestic way they carry themselves. Maybe it’s the all out effort they seem to give in a race. Or maybe it’s just how their coats shine, or rather, glisten after a race. I did think it was silly when ESPN named Secretariat one of the top fifty athletes of the last century. Racehorses are born to run and trainers, good trainers anyway, get the best out of them.
Somebody early on saw that Secretariat could run, and the trainers helped make him a champion. Yes, there was something special about that horse, but you can’t compare horses to people. But you can compare horses to horses, and Smarty Jones looks like Secretariat to me. No, he’s not a big chestnut like Secretariat, but he has that look that Big Red had when he takes the track. I’m in charge, you all can do whatever you like, but when I decide the race is over, it’s over.
Not in 129 years had any 3-year old won the Preakness by 11 ½ lengths until Smarty Jones did it last Saturday. And how he did it was pretty remarkable. He just stalked the leader, and when it was time to go, he took the rail and disappeared, winning handily. Kind of looked like Secretariat in the Belmont. And how he looked afterwards had an eerily similar look about it. Like Secretariat in 1973.
So when the Belmont comes around, I’ll be watching. And I’ll be rooting for Smarty Jones. Not because thoroughbred racing needs a Triple Crown winner but because I like Smarty Jones. He reminds me of greatness.