Smarty Jones splashed his way past Lion Heart in the stretch and won America's premier horse race Saturday a year after Funny Cide captured the fancy of the racing world.
The victory triggered the biggest payoff in the game, with the undefeated favorite earning a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park along with the Derby winner's share of $854,800.
Smarty Jones ran his record to 7-for-7 and became the first unbeaten Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977. Seattle Slew went on to win the Triple Crown, a feat Smarty Jones will attempt when he heads to the Preakness in two weeks.
"He seems to be the people's horse," Derby rookie rider Stewart Elliott said.
Even over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs - the first in 10 years - Smarty Jones raced just behind pacesetter Lion Heart. As the 18-horse field came off the final turn, the chestnut colt moved up to challenge for the lead. Under Elliott, Smarty Jones staged his patented stretch surge and pulled away for the win.
He won by 2-and-3/4 lengths over Lion Heart, ridden by Mike Smith, with Imperialism, trained by 21-year-old Kristin Mulhall, third.
The winning time for the 1-and-1/4-mile Derby was a slow 2:04.06 over the fourth sloppy track in Derby history.
"At the three-eighths pole I was biding my time," Elliott said. "I knew I had a loaded gun beneath me. He straightened up, switched leads and I figured it was time to go.
"When I had the chance, I took it. I was pretty confident when we passed Lion Heart. My horse was running," he said.
Winning trainer John Servis couldn't have asked for a better first Derby: "That was a beautiful race. Picture perfect."
Mike Smith, aboard Lion Heart, concurred: "The winner was just too much for us."
Servis and Elliott, a pair of Philadelphia Park regulars, became the first trainer-jockey duo to win the Derby on their first try since Spectacular Bid won in 1979 for trainer Bud Delp and jockey Rodney Franklin.
In the stands, 77-year-old owner Roy Chapman got out of his wheelchair and shouted, "I can't believe it!" as he received hugs from Servis, friends and relatives. Chapman, hooked up to an oxygen tank because of his emphysema, then sat back down, taking deep breaths to calm himself, but smiling the whole time.
ever since he arrived in Louisville two weeks ago. And that's partly because the 3-year-old colt's biography reads like a soap-opera doozy: A Pennsylvania bred who nearly died when he slammed his head on an iron bar; a trainer and jockey based at a small-time park; owners who refused a blank check for the horse.
Roy and Pat Chapman will now collect a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., because their horse swept the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. With the huge payday, Smarty Jones becomes the sixth biggest winner in racing history with earnings of $6,733,155.
The 4-1 favorite paid $10.20, $6.20 and $4.80. Lion Heart paid $8.20 and $5.80. Imperialism returned $6.20 to show. Limehouse was fourth, followed by The Cliff's Edge, Action This Day, Read the Footnotes, Birdstone, Tapit, Borrego, Song of the Sword, Master David, Pro Prado, Castledale, Friends Lake, Minister Eric and Pollard's Vision. Quintons Gold Rush did not finish.
The crowd, 140,054, was the smallest since 1994, when Go for Gin won over the last sloppy track.
Last year, Funny Cide became the first New York-bred to win the Derby. Smarty Jones becomes just the second Pennsylvania-bred - Lil E. Tee in 1992 was the first. Funny Cide also had a first-time Derby trainer and owners, but any other similarities end there.
Indeed, any horse would be hard-pressed to come up with a made-for-TV story to match Smarty's. And it all started just months after he was born at the Chapmans' Someday Farm in Chester County, Pa., the lush countryside outside Philadelphia.
First, original trainer Bob Camac and his wife were murdered at their farm in New Jersey, and the Chapmans nearly got out of the business altogether. They sold off most of their stock and kept only two horses - one was Smarty Jones. He was sent to Florida to be broken for racing, and when he returned last year he was sent to Servis, a friend of Camac's.
So far, so good. But last July, misfortune struck again.
While schooling in the starting gate at Philly Park, the colt suddenly reared up and slammed his head on an unpadded iron bar.
"Oh my God, this horse killed himself," Servis recalled thinking.
He fractured his skull, shattered orbital bones and nearly lost his left eye. He was nursed back to health at the New Jersey Equine Clinic. To this day, one can still see the dents in his head.
Smarty Jones finally made it to the races, and hasn't stopped running since. He broke his maiden on Nov. 9, winning by 7 3/4 lengths at Philly Park. He won by 15 lengths two weeks later - and that's when Servis knew he had himself a Derby horse.
Then it was on to New York, where he won the Count Fleet at Aqueduct before Servis took him to Arkansas. Smarty Jones then won the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes, but still hadn't earned any graded stakes money, something that was needed to make the Derby field.
A win in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby was crucial, and Smarty came through - in the rain. He blew past Borrego and won by one-and-a-half lengths and it was on to Churchill Downs.
And now it's on to Baltimore.