The attraction to Smarty Jones was nearly unavoidable in 2004. Even if you tried it was next to impossible not to root for the Pennsylvania-bred colt with the catchy name, humble connections and powerful running style.
Lacey Gaudet, who saddled Marabea to victory in last weekend's $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream Park, grew up in a racing family in Maryland and was very much caught up in the craze for Smarty Jones.
"Right now I might have to say Smarty Jones," Gaudet said last week before her big win in South Florida when asked who is her Horse Who Changed Everything. "We always loved him, had a huge following for him. My father knew both John and Jason Servis, watched them grown up and they've always been very nice to me even as a kid growing up and working for my dad.
"It was such a home story. All the connections made it seem like a very attainable journey, especially right here in the Mid-Atlantic."
Gaudet's interest in Smarty Jones extends beyond watching him win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before coming agonizingly close to sweeping the Triple Crown with a narrow defeat in the Belmont Stakes.
She holds Smarty Jones in high regard for a few reasons, one because he's the sire of a horse who got her family to the Preakness and because he's the sire of one of the best horses she's trained in her young career.
"Now to go, how many years later, to say the two best horses that I've been able to have a part in training, both Concealed Identity and John Jones, both being by Smarty Jones just adds so much more to it," Gaudet said. "You always have nice horses in the barn that run hard and try hard for you, but the personalities that have come out of Concealed Identity and John Jones, they're hams. They stick their tongues out, they pay attention to everything, they don't like their morning medicine and you know what they're going to do.
"John Jones doesn't like getting anything in his mouth and he rubs his nose all over the ground for a good two minutes in a pouting fashion. Concealed Identity, we use a Finish Line product U-7 (gastric liquid) with him. He's blind on his right side and if you try to put anything in his mouth he acts like you're trying to kill him from his blind side, but if he smells that U-7 he just starts licking his lips, sticks his tongue out. They're both very comical horses to be around. To see the personalities come out in both, and to be honest with you, both of their mares are by Polish Numbers, so it's another pedigree angle into them being related. That's a cool connection."
Concealed Identity, a stakes winner at 2 and 3 for the Gaudet family and owner Morris Bailey, finished 10th in the 2011 Preakness Stakes and later competed in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, Grade 3 Pimlico Special and several other stakes. He won four stakes and placed in seven others before he was lost in a claiming race for $32,000 in May 2015.
Over the better part of the next year he continued to drop in the claiming ranks before Team Gaudet claimed him for $10,000 in February at Laurel Park. The 8-year-old gelding hasn't raced since and don't expect him to again.
"We claimed him back, we lost him for 32 and he was just so good for us, he was running well but getting older," Gaudet said. "We saw him dropping down in the claiming ranks and said, 'he deserves to have a home with us forever.' So we claimed him back. We considered making him a track pony, but we just did a little bit of rehab with him at Laurel.
"We toyed with the idea of getting him back to the races but I don't think we'll be able to. He's happy and healthy right now. I actually talk to one guy who runs the Smarty Jones fan club, I said when I get back from Florida I need to put out a press release that says he's officially been retired. We're going to take him to the farm, try to get him over some jumps, try to showcase that a little bit. He's there, he has his home forever. He'll be stuck with us forever."
John Jones also came to Gaudet's barn through the claiming ranks, when owner Matt Schera put up $25,000 to take the 4-year-old July 17 at Laurel. He made an immediate impact, winning the Mister Diz Stakes at the expense of Maryland legend Ben's Cat and followed with three consecutive victories that included a 4 3/4-length win in the $69,060 Claiming Crown Jewel Preview at Laurel.
John Jones finished third in the Jewel last weekend at Gulfstream, beaten 2 lengths by Royal Posse, to add another $20,000 to his bankroll of $177,632 since the claim. The $20,000 also boosted Gaudet's 2016 purse total to a career-best $793,624.