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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Ten Years Later California Chrome follows Smarty Jones


Physically, the two chestnuts do not look much alike, but the trail California Chrome is currently forging through the Triple Crown landscape, as well as, hearts and minds of racefans everywhere, is reminding me more and more of Smarty Jones with each passing race. Ten years removed at birth, the pair may have different records, and come from different ends of the country, but their similarities where it is most important, on the track, are becoming very apparent. Let’s take a look at how the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner, California Chrome compares to the three-year-old champion of 2004, Smarty Jones...

*-Neither horse was bred in Kentucky. It might seem like a trivial factoid, but reality is that Kentucky-breds dominate the Kentucky Derby. In fact, California Chrome broke a streak of nine straight bluegrass bred winners of the Derby, by becoming the first since Smarty Jones.

*-Both horses came to Churchill Downs as the Kentucky Derby favorite on a serious winning streak, dominating the Arkansas and California series preps for the Derby along the way.

*-Each chestnut colt was continuously doubted leading up to the Derby because of where their careers began: Smarty Jones at Philadelphia Park, and California Chrome in statebred races in California.

*-The pair of Derby winners employed a very similar running style in their careers. On rare occasion, they could wire the field on the way to victory, but almost always it was a 'lay close to the lead before striking on the turn' type of run that got the job done.

*-Concerns about their ability to go the distance persisted for both colts, due to the unproven nature of both of their sires. Interestingly, each of their grandsires (Gone West and Pulpit), were highly respected.

*-Whether it was for Someday Farm, or Dumbass Partners Racing, both homebreds emerged as the top horse of their crop from unlikely beginnings. The fact that Smarty Jones and California Chrome were not from large operations, adds to their popularity with the masses, and furthers the ‘American Dream’ aspect of thoroughbred racing.

*-While California Chrome had several more races than Smarty Jones as a juvenile, both colts promised things to come with romping wins in sprint stakes (Pennsylvania Nursery and King Glorious), to close out their 2yo seasons.

*-Both Smarty Jones and California Chrome silenced critics under the famed twin spires with ‘clearly the best’ performances in the Kentucky Derby. They each won with their familiar and similar stalking position trips, on the way to convincing victories in the Run for the Roses.

*-While their wins at Churchill Downs were convincing, their final times were not. Smarty Jones needed 2:04.06 to get home on a sloppy racing surface, and California Chrome completed the ten furlongs, over a fast track, in 2:03.66.

*-Unlike the Derby, neither colt needed to worry about size of the field in the Preakness, as a large percentage of their Louisville competition balked at the prospect of challenging the Derby winner in Baltimore. 

Most of us cannot help but remember the exploits of Smarty Jones after winning the Kentucky Derby. The little colt that could won the 2004 Preakness by 11 ½-lengths as the 7-10 favorite in a field of ten. Two new shooters finished closest to him that day, in Rock Hard Ten and Eddington. The way he won the second leg of the Triple Crown captured the imagination of a nation, and he went to Belmont Park as racing’s new hero. 

He ran his eyeballs out, pressuring strong fractions before opening up a sizable lead at the head of the stretch; unfortunately, the relentless rally of Birdstone ended Triple Crown dreams on that June afternoon in New York. Although Smarty Jones couldn’t quite seal the deal, he was admired greatly for laying it all on the line in the twelve furlong Belmont Stakes.

Is a similar path destined for California Chrome? Can he take the Triple Crown run of Smarty Jones one step farther? Stay tuned ... I know you will! 


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Older Comments about Ten Years Later California Chrome follows Smarty Jones ...

yes.. compare them. this I
Brian you're awesome but please don't compare these two.
Not being a Monday morning QB and stating after the fact. Those 3 looked alot better after the race than they did going in. Nobody was beating Smarty that day.
Tom, without a full set of PPs or the time (at this moment) to put into reviewing each entrant in the 2004 Ky Derby, I can't give you a full answer to that question. However, I will say that I could make a case for Imperialism, Lion Heart, and Birdstone. Perhaps I could make a case for a few others, but those 3 stand out.
Thanks for pointing out the parallel development of their careers, nice twist, Brian.
What would be even more ironic is if California Chrome wins the Preakness but has a son of Birdstone (Mexikoma or Conquest Titan) end his Triple Crown dream.
  • shoewiley · that is entirely possible. I will not give Chrome the Triple Crown until he's won it and is standing in the Winner's Circle at Belmont. I have seen to much and been too involved in this sport to let anything surprise me. · 1261 days ago
Florida may i ask why??? In my opinion ,Chrome was 3 to 5 lengths faster than the field going into the race. Smarty held a bigger edge and won it just as easy. Just curious,what would of swayed your selection?
Ten years ago, I was nowhere near the handicapper I am today. Back then, I didn't have access to PPs, so Smarty Jones was the obvious choice for me in the Derby. I can honestly say that I had no doubts about his abilities. If I were to handicap that field today, I would probably come to a different conclusion due to the knowledge I have acquired in the last 10 years.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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