Five years ago Friday was when Smarty Jones, the first of the great "Philly horses," realized where he was from and did what Philly athletes always did -- choked.
June 5, 2004 will forever be remembered as the day that the great Smarty Jones failed his hometown as he faded in the final strides of the Belmont Stakes to lose the Triple Crown. It was a tearful afternoon as even casual Philly sports fans felt like they had their heart torn out.
"For the rest of the country, it was a minor disappointment that was quickly forgotten about. For many Philly sports fans it was yet another heartbreaking entry in the long list of beloved Philadelphia athletes unable to win the big one," wrote The 700 Level.
Fans outside of Philly still don't get why Smarty Jones failing to win horse racing's Triple Crown is still so painful for Philadelphians. Heck, he was only a horse that could run -- he had no idea the championship dreams of an entire city rested on his broad shoulders on the June day in Upstate New York.
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The reason why it still hurts is that it was the heart of the streak -- the Curse of Billy Penn hung heavy over the City of Brotherly Love. (Remember there was a time not so long ago -- like before last fall -- that Philly was known for losing.)
The city hadn't seen a major championship in a generation when Smarty galloped onto the scene. With each gallant stride Smarty gave hope to all Philly sports fans that if we couldn't win a Stanley Cup or a Super Bowl at least we could win a Triple Crown.
Smarty was a thoroughbred version of the classic Philly athlete except unlike guys like Allen Iverson, Randall Cunningham and Eric Lindross he was a winner. The horse born and bred in Chester County, Pa. entered the Kentucky Derby as the favorite and won.
That's right he lived up to the hype and built on it in the second leg of the Triple Crown. He solidified his hero status when in front of a very pro-Philly crowd he dominated the Preakness Stakes by a record 11.5 lengths.
But, Smarty soon epitomized what A.I., Cunningham and Lindross did -- losing.
Five years ago today a 36-1 long shot named Birdstone came from seemingly nowhere to beat the first great Philly horse. He dashed the dreams of the city and started the final series of Philly losing that included a Super Bowl loss by the Eagles.
Add the fact that Smarty was the first of three straight Philly horses to sniff Triple-Crown glory and fail. By the time Barbaro broke down it was almost expected because Smarty Jones couldn't even overcome the Curse of Billy Penn.
So today if you can handle reliving a painful memory watch the two and half minutes that left Philly lost.