BENSALEM, Pa. - In the heady aftermath of the Kentucky Derby, hours after guiding Smarty Jones to the winner's circle, Stewart Elliott spotted an acquaintance at a party.
Weaving his way through well-wishers, Elliott grasped Ralph Riviezzo's hand and shook it. The trainer began congratulating him on a brilliant ride, but Elliott changed the subject:
"I just wanted to thank you," the 39-year-old jockey told the longtime Philadelphia Park trainer.
For what? Riviezzo asked.
Nearly 20 years ago, Riviezzo slipped Elliott a $100 tip after the rider brought home one of his horses. Elliott never forgot.
"I couldn't believe it," Riviezzo recalled last week at Philly Park. "He's just won the Kentucky Derby, and he says to me: 'I was going through a little bit of a bad time, things were going slow, and I won a race for you. You handed me a hundred and told me to take out my girlfriend. That was real nice of you.' "
That, says Riviezzo, is all you need to know about Elliott: "A class act all the way. What a mind-set."
Ask people about Elliott, and the same words keep coming up repeatedly: dedicated, loyal, modest, reserved. And, of course, talented.
"This is what I do, I ride horses," Elliott said last week at a favorite restaurant near his home in Washington Crossing, Pa. "I work hard at it. It's all I know. I gave up my education for this. I've been through a lot, but I've been very fortunate."
The ultimate journeyman jockey, Elliott is now part of this season's most riveting racing story.
Smarty Jones is the first undefeated Derby winner since 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and, with Elliott and trainer John Servis along for the ride of their lives, the speedy chestnut colt looks to be in top form for Saturday's Preakness Stakes.
Should Smarty party home first in the second leg of the Triple Crown, it would set the stage for the sixth Triple try in eight years at the Belmont Stakes on June 5. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.
Elliott has won more than 3,200 races since dropping out of school after eighth grade to pursue a riding career. He started riding three years later at 16 and has climbed aboard thoroughbreds at nearly 30 racetracks in the Northeast - from Canada to New England, from New Jersey to Florida.
He's broken collar bones and legs and punctured a lung, after a horse flipped at the start of a race at Calder in the 1980s.
Elliott was born into a racing family. His father, Dennis, was a jockey for 23 years and now has a farm in Ocala, Fla. His mother, Myhill, is an assistant trainer at Woodbine in his native Toronto.
After bouncing around several tracks with moderate success, Elliott returned to Philly Park about 10 years ago. He became Servis' regular rider. He says he's got another five or six years of riding left, and he's going to try to make the most of it.
Include imperialismImperialism will make another run at Smarty Jones in Saturday's Preakness Stakes as part of a prospective 10-horse field that includes the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby.Imperialism, who took third behind winner Smarty Jones and Lion Heart, enjoyed a spirited gallop Monday in California and is expected to arrive at Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday.Steve Taub, owner of the Kentucky-bred colt, initially planned to skip the Preakness and focus on the Belmont on June 5. But Taub changed his mind, opting to challenge unbeaten Smarty Jones and eight other horses in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.