Smarty Jones might be called the "Forrest Gump" of horse racing. And, like his fictional film alter ego, the Triple Crown hopeful on Saturday will be encouraged to "Run, Smarty, run!" when he tries to win the Belmont Stakes and complete the elusive Triple Crown.
Can he pull it off? True horse racing fans must be rooting for him. After all, what could be better for the sport than a champion with modest roots and humble connections.
But bettors might have a different allegiance; they serve a different master — the almighty bet. And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t it better to cash a place ticket at 3-1 than a winning one at 1-5?
In any case, it probably won’t be easy for Smarty Jones. These things never are.
At press time Monday, the Belmont field had not been identified. Part of the problem has been the injuries and defection of much of Smarty’s previous competition in the Derby and Preakness. In fact, there could only be half a dozen horses in the Belmont starting gate.
So, who will have the best shot at upsetting a horse that so far has looked invincible?
If Pat Valenzuela gets the okay to ride Rock Hard Ten, he could move the big horse up several lengths from his second-place Preakness finish. Plus, the Rock has been working great at Belmont and will get an aggressive ride with Valenzuela in the irons.
The Mark Henning-trained Eddington has also been tearing up the track up; he just blazed five furlongs with Jerry Bailey up in :59 flat. Henning put blinkers on in hopes of getting Eddington in the race a little sooner and it looks like they have done the trick. Look for a much more aggressive colt in the Belmont.
In years past, the Belmont has produced a "dark horse" to foil a Triple Crown bid. It looks like this year’s version could be Purge, a Todd Pletcher trainee who skipped the Derby and Preakness but just won the Peter Pan Stakes.
While it’s not definite he will run Saturday, Purge owner Jack Wolf wants to run his horse. And it’s hard to go against the man who signs the checks. Purge has won three of five starts with his two losses coming at the hands of Smarty Jones in the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. You wouldn’t expect the third time to be the charm, but Smarty Jones has run two grueling races in the past five weeks. Better horses have turned in clunkers after great efforts.
Another trainer who isn’t afraid of throwing his horse to the wolves is Angel Medina, who is bringing Caiman in from Arlington Park, where he has won two allowance races. But with no stakes winners, he is a longshot in the extreme.
Rounding out the competition should be Royal Assult, Birdstone and Tap Dancer — not your Rogue’s Gallery of Three-Year-Olds.
When they line up on Saturday, look for Smarty Jones to be the odds-on favorite, maybe as low as 1-5 (bet $5 to win $1), with Rock Hard Ten the second favorite and Purge the third choice at the betting windows.
At such low odds, there isn’t much value in betting Smarty Jones to win. And remember, there will be countless tickets written on Smarty Jones as collectible souvenirs, thus, they will never be cashed.
From a betting stand point, players can either try to beat Smarty with one of the aforementioned contenders, or put Smarty on top of a trifecta (pick the top three finishers) with Rock Hard Ten in second place and Eddington and Purge third.
Another possibility is Smarty Jones on top with Rock Hard Ten and Purge boxed for second with the rest of the field in third.
If you’re truly adventurous, bet a small ticket with the Rock on top of Smarty, Eddington and Purge in second, and the field in third.
The most likely winner is still Smarty Jones, but in racing anything can and usually does happen.