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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Monday, June 07, 2004

Getting Stupid About Smarty

Come on, admit it. You didn't really think Smarty Jones was going to win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.

Not when no horse has won the Triple Crown in the past 26 years. Not when six of the past eight years, all a horse needed to do was win the Belmont to win the Triple Crown but still failed.

It wasn't going to happen, even if Smarty Jones was the favorite. I didn't think it was going to happen until Smarty held a four-length lead around the final turn. And even then, it didn't happen.

I'm not saying horse racing is fixed. I don't know how it could be done, not with all the media attention the Triple Crown races get. I also don't know much about horse racing, but I can tell you that the Belmont Stakes would be an afterthought if the same horse didn't win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. So naturally, it's in the sponsors' interest - hell, it's in the sport's interest - for a horse to win the first two jewels of the crown and fix everyone's attention on his bid for the Belmont.

And lo and behold, that's exactly what has happened in six of the past eight years. It certainly raises a red flag in my eyes. Not only that, in each of those six opportunities, the horse making his Triple Crown bid has come up short - literally - in the longer Belmont Stakes. And that, of course, raises interest in the Triple Crown the next year.

So I don't know if the fix is in or not, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised in the least if such news broke.


In a related story, the City of Philadelphia is licking its wounds again as another hopeful from the banks of the Schuylkill falls short of a championship.


Smarty Jones is not a substitute for a Flyers, Phillies, Eagles, or Sixers championship. Cry not, Philly.

Here's why (and keep in mind that I haven't lived in Philly for a few years now, so maybe I'm detached from the Smarty Jones hype): First of all, Smarty Jones already won the "championship," which is the Kentucky Derby. Every year, exactly one horse wins the Derby, just like every year, only one team wins the Stanley Cup, World Series, etc.

In team sports, a champion isn't crowned every 26 years. So why was the Triple Crown necessary for Philly to feel as though Smarty Jones cleaned the slate of championship failures?

It wasn't.

The bigger reason that a Smarty Jones Triple Crown would not serve as a surrogate champion for the City of Brotherly Love is because a month of rooting for a horse is in no way equal to 21 years of supporting a city's teams.

Maybe Philadelphia is so desperate for a champion that it needed a Triple Crown to make up for 84 combined seasons without a championship in the NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA. But that wouldn't have made up for anything.

Assume Smarty Jones had won the Belmont. Four months from now, if the Phillies fell short of the playoffs, would Philly fans say to themselves, "Well, Smarty Jones won the Triple Crown, so I guess we can't win 'em all?"

Of course not. Smarty Jones would be ancient history in the minds of Philly fans. They've waited 24 years for a World Series champion. If you think for a second that a month of support for a champion horse about which they had never heard before could make up for a quarter-century of losing baseball, you're flat-out wrong.

Smarty Jones could never count as a Philadelphia champion the way the Flyers or Eagles could. Fans haven't invested their emotions in Smarty Jones the way they have in those teams. I've seen people with Flyers tattoos. I've seen Winnebagos painted in Eagles colors and logos. Ask those people what Smarty Jones means to them, and they'll tell you it's nice, good for Smarty, but Philadelphia still hasn't had a champion since May 31, 1983.

Apologies to the vendors selling Smarty Jones shirts outside the new Phils ballpark, but it doesn't count. We need Jim Thome and Larry Bowa smiling next to Bud Selig in late October for the championship drought to truly end.


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