-By Dick Jerardi
As the annual 25-day break ends on the last day of August, what has been anticipated for months is now upon us. September has become “the” month at Parx since its most important races were moved to the third Saturday and placed together on a racing card that now has significant championship and Breeders’ Cup implications. That is every year. This year, however, is even more special because on Labor Day, almost exactly 15 years after his final appearance on the Parx track (Aug. 14, 2004), Smarty Jones will return to be paraded late that afternoon.
Smarty’s appearance will come between the $300,000 Turf Monster and the race named in his honor, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes. Those races will be preceded by the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia Stakes and four $100,000 MATCH series races.
The races will be nice, but Smarty’s appearance will be the highlight of the day and maybe the year. Who knows what the track or the racing would look like without Smarty’s impact (Gov. Rendell says the horse’s popularity was critical to passing the slots bill) in the spring of 2004 when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? Smarty was denied the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes only because he was targeted by other jockeys less interested in winning the race than seeing Smarty Jones get beat.
None of what happened in his final race, however, can ever lessen the brilliance of the greatest horse ever born in Pennsylvania and the best ever to occupy a stall at what was then called Philadelphia Park: Barn 11, Stall 38 to be exact.
The return of Smarty Jones is so big that there will be a two-hour television show (4-6 pm) on PHL-17, featuring four of the races and the Smarty Jones appearance. The races, no doubt, will be terrific, but it will be Smarty Jones that brings people to the track who got into the sport because of Roy and Pat Chapman’s horse and, in many cases, became fans for life.
Exactly 19 days after Smarty Jones Day, Parx will be in the spotlight again when the first national telecast in the track’s history will feature the Grade I $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade I $1 million Cotillion Stakes. The races will be on NBC from 5-6 p.m. on Sept. 21.
Not only will they be on national television; both races could go a long way toward determining 3-year-old championships.
The Pa. Derby appears as if it will include the horses that finished first in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational winner Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first and placed 17th in the Derby, and Preakness winner War of Will are both on schedule to run in the race.
The Cotillion looks as if it will include Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, unbeaten Guarana for superstar trainer Chad Brown and local hero Jaywalk, the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Eclipse Award-winning Two-Year-Old Champion Filly.
Jason Servis trains Maximum Security while his younger brother John trains Jaywalk so that could be some day for the Servis brothers. Whatever happens that day, it will be not be as emotional as Labor Day no doubt will be for John Servis, the man who trained Smarty Jones so brilliantly.
“He gave us a helluva ride,” John Servis said on the day of Smarty’s last appearance at Parx, fifteen years ago. “We had the time of our lives.”