Hey, you – the guy saddling up to the betting window …
Yeah you, pal – the guy with the bankroll in your wallet that is making your pants pocket look like a pimple on your butt …
Have I got a horse for you to bet the house and the farm on for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, the 143rd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky …
His name is Irish War Cry and he comes from what many consider the most unlikely state to produce one of the 20 horses in the field …
New Jersey? That state between New York City and Philadelphia?
What’s that? You want to know how I know? Well, I know.
I’m Smarty Jones but my friends call me Smarty. Remember me? I’m the horse that came within an eighth of a mile of winning the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont – in 2004.
Got caught at the end in the last of the races by a long shot named Birdstone.
So they put me out to stud. I’m thinking I’m Richard Gere in the movie “American Gigolo,” OK. Well, I had my fun but eventually I grew old and started shooting blanks.
So I had to find something new to do. Thought of becoming a horse whisperer, but Robert Redford owns that role. Instead, I’ve become the horse that whispers.
My owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, lived just outside Philadelphia during the summers, and I was named after Pat’s mom, who was nicknamed Smarty Jones during her precocious youth.
I, too, have a very interesting past. The stepson of my original trainer killed him and his wife. When I was 2, someone startled me while I was learning how to break from the gate, and I leaped up and broke my head. Fortunately, the good doctors at the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Millstone kept me from losing an eye and being put down.
Used to spend time at Seaside Heights, Asbury Park and other hot spots on the Jersey Shore – the beaches, not the MTV series. Love everything Jersey. It’s the Garden State, you know, for its Jersey corn, Jersey tomatoes and Jersey blueberries. Delicious.
Jersey also is/was home to Chris Christie, Jason Alexander, Mike Trout, Bill Parcells, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Donald Fagen, Allen Ginsburg, Paul Simon, Bruce Willis, Queen Latifah, Joe Pesci, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Chelsea Handler, Vince Lombardi, Abbott and Costello, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Ryan, Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., Amos Alonzo Stagg, Meryl Streep, Carli Lloyd, Jerry Lewis, Ozzie Nelson, Joe Theismann, Ashley Tisdale, Anne Hathaway, John Travolta, Dionne Warwick, Martha Stewart and Dick Vitale, among others …
Oh, yeah, New Jersey is/was home to the Boiardos, the organized crime family that was the basis for “The Sopranos” TV series.
Get where I’m going? I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. So what if it’s been 83 years between New Jersey-bred Kentucky Derby winners. I’m telling you Irish War Cry will join Regret (1915) and Cavalcade (1934) in the winner’s circle. Eighty-three years between champions? You think those crazy fans of the Chicago Cubs care anymore that their club went 106 years between World Series championships?
Bet Irish War Cry and then get into to your old 1970 VW beetle, light up your last Muriel and turn on the radio. Then, pal, after Irish War Cry crosses the finish line ahead of the other 19 horses just before 7 EDT Saturday night, go to the window, collect your money, fire up your Rolls Royce and a Montecristo #2, pop open a bottle of Armand de Brignac Brut Gold Champagne and thank me Sunday morning.
Only three horses have better odds than Irish War Cry, which drew the gate 17 and was listed at 6-1 odds when the pole positions were drawn Wednesday: Classic Empire (4-1 odds, gate 14), McCraken (5-1 odds, gate 15) and Always Dreaming (5-1 odds, gate 5).
Classic Empire is considered the “bad boy” among the field. During the 2-year-old race the Hopeful at Saratoga Springs in the fall of 2016, Classic Empire threw its jockey coming out of the gate. Then there were times where the horse just refused to work out.
A real prima donna. “I’m supposed to be a Kentucky Derby favorite and we’re in here talking about workouts,” Classic Empire told me. “We’re talking about workouts – not the Kentucky Derby. Not the Derby … workouts.”
Still, when he’s serious, Classic Empire makes it to the winner’s circle more often than not as he did April 15 in winning the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. McCraken, coming off a third at the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, is 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs and won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11. Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby on April 1 by five lengths.
Yet, the trio has nothing on Irish War Cry, whose father is Hall of Fame studmeister Curlin and whose mother is Irish Sovereign.
Daddy won 11 of his 16 career starts, including the 2007 Preakness (he was third in the Derby and second in the Belmont) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. As a stud, Curlin commands $150,000 for a successful dalliance. Mommy, meanwhile, is the darling of 86-year-old Isabelle de Tomaso, the daughter of Amory L. Haskell, who founded the Monmouth Jockey Club, which rebuilt Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport when New Jersey legalized horse racing and betting after World War II.
Every year in late July, the Haskell Invitational Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race, is run at Monmouth Park. In 2015, it was won by American Pharoah, the only horse ever to win the Grand Slam of American horse racing – the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic – in the same calendar year. In attendance that day were two of Haskell’s daughters – Isabelle de Tomaso and Hope Haskell Jones – who grew up riding horses at the family’s Woodland Farm in Middletown, about 10 miles from the track.
Now Isabelle is the Haskell daughter with the real need for speed. A racecar enthusiast who once participated at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, Isabelle once entertained thoughts of driving in the Indianapolis 500 long before Janet Guthrie succeeded in 1977. Isabelle later married an Argentinian racecar maker and driver Alejandro de Tomaso and the couple settled in Italy to sell Formula I cars.
Eventually, Isabelle came back to “real” horsepower when she bought a mare that eventually produced a daughter named Irish Trip, the third dam of Irish War Cry. You could say her coupling of Curlin and Irish Sovereign was a little like John Ford’s coupling of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the classic Irish movie, “The Quiet Man.”
Their son, Irish War Cry, came running along on May 2, 2014 and he hasn’t disappointed his parents. The son won a 6-furlong maiden race at Maryland’s Laurel Park on Nov. 11, 2016 and followed it with another victory in the 7-furlong Marylander Stakes on New Year’s Eve 2016.
Shipped to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., Irish War Cry made it 3-for-3 in the Holy Bull Stakes, a race over 1 1/16 miles, on Feb. 4 of this year, beating Gunnevera and Classic Empire in an impressive 1:42.52.
But on March 4, as the 5-2 favorite, Irish War Cry faded in the stretch and finished seventh in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream behind winner Gunnevera and runner-up Practical Joke, who are both in the Kentucky Derby field.
“A real head-scratcher,” Irish War Cry trainer Graham Motion said. Motion scratched his plans to have Irish War Cry run the Florida Derby and instead brought him to New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack for the Wood Memorial on April 8. Motion also scratched Joel Rosario from the saddle and inserted Rajiv Maragh and Irish War Cry won the 1 1/8-mile race by four lengths over Battalion Runner in 1:50.91.
Maragh has an interesting tale to tell, too. A native of India, he missed 16 months with a broken back, broken ribs and a collapsed lung after the horse, Yourcreditisgood, he was riding at Belmont dumped and landed on him during a crash in July 10, 2015.
There’s no truth that Yourcreditisgood sleeps with the fishes. But this being a New Jersey-bred horse, however, you never know.
As for betting the race, my friend, take this advice from Smarty’s bookie Kirby:
“I’ll put Irish War Cry and McCraken at the top of my ticket,” Kirby said. “Underneath in the trifecta and superfecta I’ll include Classic Empire (hoping this head-strong colt behaves himself), value picks Lookin At Lee (a deep closer with 20-1 odds who will be running at the end despite running out of gate 1) and Gunnevera (a closer out of gate 10 with 15-1 odds), and maybe even the under-appreciated Girvin (15-1, gate 7). It’s hard to pass on Always Dreaming, but he could be the post-time favorite with unappealing odds.”
So enjoy some corned beef and cabbage and mix in a couple of mint juleps, my friend. I got a feeling Saturday in racing’s old Kentucky home will end up being a great day for the Irish of New Jersey.