Jason Beem's Thursday Column for June 6, 2024

June 6th, 2024

Jason looks back at the 20th anniversary of Smarty Jones' 2024 Triple Crown bid and gives his picks for this year's race. 

“Smarty Jones enters the stretch, to the roar of 120,000, but Birdstone is going to make it him earn it today! The whip is out on Smarty Jones. It’s been 26 years, it’s just one furlong away. Birdstone is an upset threat. They’re coming down to the finish. Can Smarty Jones hold on? Here comes Birdstone. Birdstone surges past, Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes.” 

That call was made 20 years ago just yesterday. The 2004 Belmont (G1) for some reason sticks with us. There were numerous horses who took their two Triple Crown series wins into New York with a chance at history. So why does it seem like he was the one that everyone thought was finally going to do it? Something about his story, his connections, his wins, that just made it seem like it was finally going to happen. 

We’ve had two Triple Crown winners between now and then and yet for some reason that Belmont still sticks out more than either of those to me. I think a lot of us have our reasons on why we connected to Smarty Jones. He was personal to us. I mostly didn’t follow racing after my beloved Longacres closed in 1992. But in 2003 I started following it again and by 2004 I was working at Emerald Downs and started my career in the sport. I felt so much passion about horse racing that year and Smarty was a big part of it. I remember watching that Belmont from the media office at Emerald Downs and even with just three of us in there, the air went out of the room when Birdstone went by. I remember my boss Grant looking at the Emerald toteboard just afterwards and saying, “ugh we still got eight races left.” We were all done after Smarty was beaten. 

I tweeted out about the anniversary of that race yesterday and when I got out of my yoga class, I was shocked how many notifications I had. So many replies of people responding where they were that day, how it felt, and also many questioning riding tactics on Smarty and his opponents. I personally never really got all that mad at Stewart Elliott for the ride. I’m sure he’s replayed it over in his mind a few times over the years. But, he’s also a Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winning rider who’s had a great career. 

The call I quoted above is in my opinion the best call Tom Durkin ever made, which is saying something because he’s the best American born caller ever and has a list of incredible race calls two miles long. I say “in my opinion” because races and racecalls are personal and everyone has their reasons why they might like one more than another. But the cadence, the build up, the words, the delivery, all of it, was just so perfect for the moment. Just incredible. 

This weekend we’re going to have a very different Belmont Stakes. Sure there’s no Triple Crown on the line, but it’s at Saratoga and that alone will make it memorable. It’s a mile and a quarter which certainly will make it a little more common. But it’s still an intriguing race with some good story lines and that’s usually enough for me to not complain. I see people talking about asterisks and all that and it just annoys me. If I was an owner and won this race, I won the Belmont Stakes. Take your asterisk and….well you know. 

My picks: 

  1. Resilience
  2. Sierra Leone
  3. Mindframe 

Good luck everyone!