After breeding only 50 mares last year in Kentucky, 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones will be bred to more than 200 this year at Ghost Ridge Farms in York, PA, and in Uraguay, where he will be shipped this month.
Smarty Jones, fondly remembered as Pennsylvania’s sweetheart who narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown in 2004, quietly made the trip last fall back to his home state, where he now stands at Ghost Ridge Farms in York.
The 10-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred stallion had previously started his breeding career at historic Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., home to such storied stallions as Dynaformer, Point Given, Rahy and Silver Charm.
But owner Pat Chapman, who named the horse after her mother Milly “Smarty Jones” McNair, decided last year to bring the horse back to his home turf in Pennsylvania, where she felt breeders might better appreciate him. After looking at other farms in the state, Chapman settled on Ghost Ridge, where Smarty was relocated on Nov. 6, 2010.
“We held a welcome home party for him later that month,” Carl McEntree, general manager at Ghost Ridge, said. “We weren’t expecting a very big turnout, but 3,500 people showed up. We were parking them in the paddocks. They all wanted to see Pennsylvania’s prodigal son return home.”
Born in Chester County and trained by John Servis out of Philadelphia Park, Smarty Jones began his now famous winning streak at the Bensalem race track, winning his first race by six furlongs. He won five more races before his biggest test to date, the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
He became the first unbeaten horse to win the race since Seattle Slew in 1977. Servis and jockey Stewart Elliot become the first team in 25 years to win the Derby in their debut start. Smarty Jones also became only the second Pennsylvania-bred horse in history to win the race, the first being Lil E. Tee in 1992.
The win, combined with Smarty Jones appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated -- the only horse aside from Secretariat to ever earn that honor -- triggered an explosive following for the horse in Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia.
After winning the Preakness Stakes, setting a blistering record that still stands, he went on to lose the Belmont Stakes by a length to Birdstone. Smarty Jones retired in August of that year, boasting eight wins and one place in nine starts with $7.6 million in winnings. He was given the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Male Horse.
A Jump Start for Ghost Ridge
One must wonder how this superstar racehorse ended up at sleepy Ghost Ridge Farms, which is located down a quiet road surrounded by homes in a suburban subdivision. It all started last year when the farm acquired Jump Start, McEntee said.
Jump Start, a 1999 son of A.P. Indy and grandson of Storm Cat, was ranked second in Pennsylvania last year with progeny earnings of $3.4 million. He has sired 20 stakes winners and 39 stakes horses in his lifetime.
“He was the first stallion to stand for $10,000 in Pennsylvania,” McEntee said. “We were unsure as to whether a horse could stand for that type of fee in a regional market like Pennsylvania.”
But Jump Start humbled all the critics, booking 116 mares in 2010 and setting a state record. After the historic season, Ghost Ridge was on the map as a leading Pennsylvania stallion station, and perhaps home to the best stallions outside Kentucky. The farm acquired E Dubai later in the year; the horse beat Jump Start as Pennsylvania’s leading sire last year.
Ghost Ridge’s success with Jump Start caught the eye of Chapman, who had limited Smarty Jones’ book when he first began his breeding career at Three Chimneys. Looking for a way to help him gain recognition as a sire, she settled on Ghost Ridge as the farm to carry on Smarty’s legacy.
“She felt comfortable with our history of having horses of that caliber here,” McEntee said. “She also felt like bringing Smarty here would give him more of an opportunity to stand out.”
The American Dream
Since Smarty’s arrival at Ghost Ridge, McEntee has witnessed firsthand how much America, and Pennsylvania in particular, still loves this horse. From the presents and birthday cards he receives every year to the people who travel from far and wide to see him during farm tours, it’s clear America is still enamored with Smarty Jones.
“America likes a hardworking person,” McEntee, who is from England, said. “Everyone really gets behind the American dream here. Smarty Jones encompasses the American Dream.”
From starting with humble beginnings at Philadelphia Park to taking the nation by storm with his romp in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Smarty Jones “gripped the nation.”
“He had a will to win you seldom see in any sport, whether it’s soccer or basketball or horse racing,” McEntee said. “He had grit and determination that captured people’s hearts.”
Heart of a Champion
Smarty continues to show his charismatic personality in his new career in the breeding shed, which McEntee said he handles in a level-headed manner, describing him as an “easy-going horse.” But Smarty still enjoys hamming it up for the crowds that visit him on farm tours.
“He is truly a showman,” McEntee said. “He puts on this façade like he still thinks you’re about to bring him to the paddock for the Derby. He still acts like he’s a champion.”
Indeed, Smarty is still treated like a champion at Ghost Ridge, where he is pampered daily with his own paddock and attentive grooms. McEntee compared the horse’s behavior in retirement to that of an ex-president: “He still wants to sign autographs.”
It’s clear Chapman made the right decision in bringing Smarty home to Pennsylvania. During his last year standing at Three Chimneys, Smarty was bred to less than 50 mares. By the end of this year, he will have been bred to 200 mares, including many mares during the Southern Hemisphere’s breeding season in Uruguay, where Smarty will be shipped this month.
“This will keep him breeding in the off season, and who wouldn’t like to spend the cold season of Pennsylvania in balmy Uruguay?” McEntee said.