A couple of days ago we took a look back at Spectacular Bid's victory in the 1979 Kentucky Derby. The Bid would go on to take two of the three Triple Crown races, falling short in the Belmont Stakes. Keeping with the theme of Derby winners that came close to a Triple Crown sweep, today we remember the 2004 Kentucky Derby featuring Smarty Jones, the first undefeated winner of the race since Seattle Slew in 1977.
Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality, began his career at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) with a pair of dominating victories at six furlongs. In the first start of this three-year-old season, Smarty shipped to Aqueduct and rolled to a five length victory in the Count Fleet. Hitting the road once again, Smarty Jones returned to the track at Oaklawn Park where he would sweep the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby, setting him up for a $5 million payday if he could win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Looking back through the past performance for the 2004 Derby, I quickly noticed how many big Beyer figures pop off the page. Four horses earned a Beyer of 110 or higher coming into the Derby, and overall there were ten figures over a hundred in the field, and several others right at 100 (Smarty Jones and Imperialism each had two 100+ Beyers). While we can debate the strength of any figure, or set of figures, it's interesting to see the decline of big figures heading into the Kentucky Derby. With the exception of Bodemeister's Arkansas Derby, very few of this year's contenders have earned figures comparable to the field from 2004.
113: Read the Footnotes/G2-Fountain of Youth
112: Smarty Jones/Rebel
111: The Cliff's Edge/G1-Blue Grass
110: Lion Heart/G1-Blue Grass
109: Smarty Jones/G2-Arkansas Derby
107: Pollard's Vision/G2-Illinois Derby
104: Imperialism/G2-San Rafael
103: Castledale (IRE)/G1-Santa Anita Derby
102: Quintons Gold Rush/G2-Lexington
101: Imperialism/G2-San Vicente
A downpour in Louisville drenched the Churchill Downs main track prior to the post parade, leaving the dirt surface a sloppy mess. Once the gate opened, Lion Heart, winner of the G1-Hollywood Futurity and second in both the G2-San Rafael and G1-Blue Grass, set testing fractions through the first half-mile (22.99 and 46.73). Smarty Jones, after racing in the middle of a pack of five horses in the opening quarter mile, secured a perfect stalking position down the backstretch, tracking Lion Heart every step of the way. Coming off the far turn, Smarty engaged his rival and quickly put the race away en route to a 2 ¾ length victory.
Birdstone, winner of the G1-Champagne Stakes as a juvenile, finished a well-beaten eighth after a bit of a troubled trip. He would skip the Preakness and then return to spoil the Smarty Jones Triple Crown coronation in the final furlong of the Belmont Stakes.
Below is a replay of the 2004 Kentucky Derby.