Originally created 05/02/04

Smarty Jones, Limehouse give thrills



LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A Pennsylvania car dealer started a horse farm in the 1980s with a lot of big dreams they hoped to achieve some day.

"We talked about some day we were going to do this and some day we were going to do that," said Patricia Chapman, wife and partner to Roy Chapman. "So we decided to call it Someday Farm."

Some day the Chapmans hoped to win a Kentucky Derby, and that day was Saturday when a 3-year-old chestnut colt fulfilled their dreams.

First-time Kentucky Derby jockey Stewart Elliott, first-time trainer John Servis and the first-time owners took unbeaten horse Smarty Jones on a once-in-a-lifetime ride in the 130th Kentucky Derby at Churchhill Downs.

Smarty Jones became the first undefeated Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977, catching front-runner Lion Heart at the final turn and pulling away to a 23-length victory on the sloppy track and a $6 million payday Saturday for sweeping less heralded Arkansas preps. Bettors made the horse a 4-to-1 favorite at post time.

"A lot of people doubted this horse because of the path we took," said Servis, who brought the horse into the Kentucky Derby with a perfect 6-0 record including its only graded stakes win in the slop at the Arkansas Derby. "But because it was such a good story, I think a lot of people were rooting for him and that's probably what made him the favorite. I'm sure that they are cashing their tickets right now and tickled to death."

The same could be said for Smarty's owner Roy Chapman, wheelchair-bound and suffering from emphysema at age 77.

"We never raced at this level and never thought I'd get here until we got Smarty and this guy (Servis) sitting next to me," Chapman said.

"It's just unbelievable," said Elliott, the first rookie jockey to win the Derby since Ron Franklin atop Spectacular Bib in 1979. "I crossed the wire first ... I just can't explain it. It feels great. There are no words for it."

Imperialism slipped past Dogwood Stable's Limehouse in the stretch to claim third. But Limehouse's performance was strong enough that Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable in Aiken, is considering running the horse in two weeks at the Preakness Stakes.

"I thought we'd be third there, but we were a damn good fourth," Campbell said.

Smarty Jones, a horse that fractured his skull as a 2-year-old, captured the hearts and hunches of the Derby Day crowd. In an 18-horse field that was considered wide open, Smarty Jones managed to stand out despite significant doubts about his abilities.

Saturday played out perfectly for the favorite. The track had firmed up through the day after overnight rains, but another thunderstorm system moved in at 4:15 p.m. Saturday and dumped enough rain on the track to make it sloppy again before the ninth race.

The last time horses ran for the roses in a slop, Go For Gin gave Nick Zito his second Derby win in 1994.

The sloppy track helped the speed horses take charge, and Smarty Jones took advantage as it did in the Arkansas Derby.

"I said, 'Let it rain!'" said Elliott.

Lion Heart, who worked out all week at Keeneland and didn't show up to Churchill Downs until Saturday morning, set the pace from the start, breaking from the No. 5 post and opening a lead down the backstretch. Elliott held Smarty Jones behind and then made his move on the second turn as the pair entered the stretch in a two-horse race.

"I knew I had a loaded gun underneath and I was just waiting," Elliott said. "I figured it was time to go and he went."

Lion Heart led for more than a mile before yielding.

"I gave great respect for the winner," Lion Heart trainer Patrick Baincone said. "He's a champion. I hope if everything goes well, in two weeks we can get revenge. Perhaps we can have an Affirmed-Alydar rivalry."

Smarty Jones has been unrivaled so far. Other prominent contenders on Saturday never really challenged, including The Cliff's Edge (fifth), Tapit (ninth) and Master David (12th).

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com