Smarty Jones was never supposed to get the distance. He wasn't supposed to get the Derby distance, or the Preakness distance, let alone the Belmont distance. He was sired by a world-record miler in Elusive Quality. His dam, I'll Get Along, was sired by Smile, a sprinter. Smarty Jones wasn't meant to do what he nearly did.
He won the Derby in impressive fashion, then won the Preakness by a record 11 1/2 lengths. The Belmont Stakes was going to be the apotheosis of Smarty Jones and the "Smarty Party."
Smarty Jones was the horse to beat, so horses were going to come after him. That much is expected in sport. What isn't expected is a flurry of attacks from several horses meant to tire Smarty to the detriment of their own races.
Pat Forde, then of ESPN, wrote in 2008 (the year Big Brown was vying for the Triple Crown):
But a gang-up scenario is hardly unimaginable. Some people believe it's happened many times before in this unforgiving sport, including in this very race.
Roy Chapman, owner of the last horse to arrive in New York with a shot to win the Triple Crown, Smarty Jones, went to his grave in 2006 convinced that Smarty's '04 Belmont defeat was a setup. He believed elite jockeys Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis engaged in suicidal tactics designed to make the big horse fail.
"I never saw two riders ride so hard to lose a race in my life," Chapman growled one week after his colt lost the Crown deep in the stretch to Birdstone. "They just were out for one thing: making sure Smarty didn't win."
Purge, Rock Hard Ten and Eddington all took aim at Smarty Jones. Eddington, ridden by Jerry Bailey, dropped back and then surged back up into contention. In conversations I've had with Bailey (who, in his own words, still gets "so much s--t" about his ride), he said he was supposed to bring Eddington to eyeball Smarty. It was their only chance at winning; otherwise, Smarty would've galloped off to the Triple Crown.
It didn't look that innocent on camera. It's amazing Smarty held on as long as he did. He lost by just a length. If the race were run under "normal" competitive conditions, he would've probably won.
Nobody was more disappointed than the record 120,139 people on hand.