Smarty Jones could make history next Saturday by winning the Belmont Stakes and sweeping the Triple Crown, and his owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, are looking to buck recent precedent by having him race next year as a 4-year-old, thus delaying the colt's inevitable trip to the breeding shed.
"If this horse wins the Triple Crown, and comes out healthy and sound and continues to race at the highest level, he will race next year," George Isaacs, who is advising the Chapmans on the syndication of Smarty Jones' breeding rights, said Friday in a telephone interview.
"They really feel blessed by this horse and feel a sense of responsibility to the racing public. He has become America's horse, and they want people to enjoy him for a while."
Virtually every commercial breeding farm in Kentucky and beyond is bidding for the undefeated Smarty Jones. The prospect of landing a Triple Crown champion -- only the 12th in history and the first since Affirmed in 1978 -- has driven up Smarty Jones' price as well as the pressure on the Chapmans to sell his breeding rights.
Two Kentucky breeders familiar with the proposals for Smarty Jones' rights say several will be US$40 million to US$60 million if he wins the Belmont. No deal for the rights will be made until after the Belmont -- if a deal is even made this year -- and whichever farm lands Smarty Jones will have to agree to keep him in training, Isaacs said.
"I'm not going to comment on the numbers, but I will say that if Smarty wins the Triple Crown, it will be one of the most lucrative stallion deals we've seen in a long time," said Isaacs, who is the general manager at Bridlewood Farm in Florida, where the colt began his training.
The Chapmans' plans for Smarty Jones were first reported Friday in The Star-Banner of Ocala, Florida.
Of the last five Kentucky Derby winners, only last year's victor, Funny Cide, a gelding with no breeding value, has mounted an extended campaign as an older horse. The 1999 Derby and Preakness winner, Charismatic, was retired after sustaining a career-ending injury in the Belmont; and the 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos, raced once as a 4-year-old before being injured. War Emblem, the 2002 Derby and Preakness winner, was sold to a Japanese breeding outfit for a reported US$18 million and did not race as a 4-year-old.
In 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus caught the nation's fancy with an emphatic victory in the Kentucky Derby, but raced only three more times as a 3-year-old before being retired to the life of a stallion. His owner, Fusao Sekiguchi, sold him for more than US$60 million in the weeks after the Derby. Fusaichi Pegasus now commands US$85,000 per coupling with a mare.
If Smarty Jones continued racing as a 4-year-old, he would evoke an earlier era when owners bred horses to race rather than raced them to breed. The 1941 Triple Crown champion, Whirlaway, made 60 career starts, and the 1946 champion, Assault, raced as a 7-year-old.
In fact, the 11 Triple Crown winners together made 104 starts at age 4 or older, and won 57 of those races. Of the most recent Triple Crown champions, Secretariat (1973) was retired to stud after his 3-year-old season while Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) raced the following year, with both of them doing very well. Seattle Slew won 5 of 7 races as a 4-year-old, and Affirmed won 7 of 9.
As a 4-year-old, Smarty Jones would draw widespread interest; if he can remain undefeated, the interest will be enormous. "The farms have been receptive to the idea of letting him race," Isaacs said.
"They realize a horse like Smarty Jones comes along once in a blue moon and is special."
In eight starts, Smarty Jones has earned more than US$6.7 million -- including a US$5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for sweeping its Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
If Smarty Jones wins the US$1 million Belmont Stakes, the Chapmans will receive another US$5 million bonus from Visa USA for sweeping the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones would become horse racing's career leader in earnings, passing Cigar, who won US$10 million in purses running through age 6 in the 1990s.
The Chapmans' son, Michael, says one race the family would like to compete in this year is the Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day at Philadelphia Park, which is Smarty Jones' home base. The Chapmans bred the colt in Pennsylvania, first raced him there and own a string of car dealerships in the area.
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