Elliott hand-rode Smarty through the stretch, tapping him twice with a furlong to go, and the colt exploded to win in 1:55 2/5. That validated his Derby victory, which many felt was aided by a speed-favoring, front-runner's bias on the sloppy Churchill track. "If anybody had any doubts, they shouldn't now," said Jason Orman, the trainer of runner-up Rock Hard Ten.
Nine horses since Affirmed have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, including five in the past seven years, only to fall short in the grueling 1�-mile Belmont. Rock Hard, freakishly sized at more than 17 hands, and lightly raced—the Preakness was his fourth start—appears to be Smarty's toughest obstacle. Excluded from the Derby because of insufficient graded stakes earnings, Rock Hard overcame not only his misbehavior at the gate but also getting strung out six-and five-wide around the turns, to close impressively, two lengths clear of Eddington. "He's got so much room for improvement," Orman had conceded last Thursday, "that I don't know if he'll be as good as he can be in this race."
But the spotlight now belongs to Smarty Jones, who with a Belmont victory would earn a second $5 million bonus (Smarty collected the first by sweeping Oaklawn Park's Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby), thereby becoming the richest racehorse in history. His backstory strains the limits of plausibility; his success ennobles the Chapmans and Servis, and Elliott maybe most of all, who have all walked a difficult road to stand on the brink of greatness. "When you're starting out, you have to go through a lot of hardships," Servis says. "When I left college and went to work for Scotty Schulhofer at Monmouth, I was living in a room at the end of the barn. Wasn't making much money. I'd go to the grocery store once a week to stock up on peanut butter and jelly. But those are the sacrifices you make to do what you love to do."
Servis paused. "I think this gives everybody hope."