May the Best Horse Win, but where?

In 2004,  I was still working for trainer Paco Gonzalez & HRTV in Southern California. Came Home, the most amazing three-year-old I was blessed to be around, was retired to Lanes End Farm.  So where did I want to live?  Kentucky, of course!  Along with Came Home’s new residence in KY, my beloved mother, Peggy Bower was over 60 and I decided it was my business to stay close to home.

I packed a U-Haul, shipped my car and took all my belongings across the country back to Louisville, KY.  The home of the greatest horse race in the world, The Kentucky Derby.

I always followed the Triple Crown candidates, somewhat, but this year I was so focused on two colts. Tapit and Smarty Jones.

While working in California for HRTV,  I noticed a gray colt trained by Michael Dickinson, who broke his maiden at Delaware Park in October of 2003, I remember thinking, “Good Lord, that is a racehorse!”  Tapit’s next start was in the Laurel Futurity G3, and this time he had the services of Ramon Dominguez in the irons. Tapit had somewhat of a a troubled trip but still managed to draw off, ears up and won by over 4 lengths.

I remember waiting and waiting for news of Tapit’s next race.  I even decided to write a letter to Michael Dickinson myself and tell him what a fan I was of the son of Pulpit.  He responded back. How cool!  Here I was, an assistant trainer on the West Coast, start struck over this gray colt and his trainer.

While waiting for Tapit’s next start, my focus shifted to a son of Elusive Quality named Smarty Jones.  Watching the Southwest Stakes and reading how this horse is undefeated,

I started to be a little intrigued by the colt.  I looked at his pedigree and saw he was out of a mare by Smile.  Smile was that gutty colt who won the Breeders Cup Sprint for another former boss of mine, Scotty Schulhofer. The stable pony at the Schulhofer barn, Say Cheese, was by Smile.

So here it is, April and I am now officially living in Kentucky.  Heaven.  I remember reading that trainer John Servis decided to train Smarty Jones at Keeneland up until a work before Derby.  I woke up early to drive to Keeneland just to see the chestnut colt train.  Boy was the 88 mile trip worth it.  What a tough horse he was.  His rider had to be 175 lbs and it took all of that to hold Smarty to a steady gallop.

I traveled back on I-64 towards Louisville and a friend called and told me Tapit was shipping in to Churchill the next day.  The gray colt shipped into the barn directly next to the test barn at Churchill Downs, which was a short walk to the track. As they unloaded their “traps” or equipment for Tapit, I noticed something unusual to be shipping with a horse.  They had baskets full of grass.  They shipped his own grass to graze on.   It actually was a very smart thing to send with Tapit as there is less chance of the colt ingesting something contaminated.  His groom would only graze Tapit on those squares of well traveled blades of grass.

May 1, 2004 was upon us. Derby Day.  The tale of these two colts will have the peak of the story today. (Chart courtesy of Equibase)

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 3.23.50 AM

Well, there is the proof in black and white. Smarty Jones defeated a solid group of runners convincingly under Stewart Elliot and won the hearts of America. Smarty went on to win the Preakness Stakes also un touched by his rivals.  The Nick Zito trained Birdstone, soundly defeated Smarty Jones and his quest for greatness, the Triple Crown.

So, here it is 2020. Smarty Jones has been retired to stud duties for over 15 years and has recently been placed back to his birth state of Pennsylvania and is standing for $2,500.  Tapit, well, he went on to greatness in the breeding shed and currently stands for 225,000 at Gainsway Farm.

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