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Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Smarty Jones for president

Commentary by JoEllen Collins

When I watched Smarty Jones lose at Belmont in the third leg of the Triple Crown, I was struck by the comparison to a Presidential race. It is tempting to indulge in a series of wild cliches, using the analogy of a horse race to another kind of race. I will not burden you by elaborating on the obvious: "winning by a nose" for Florida's chads in 2000; "coming down the home stretch" describing our country's coming conventions and nominations; or the phrase, "That's what makes a horse race," when the result is not what one expected.

It is even tempting to look at a prime aspect of racing that makes it such a popular sport—gambling, and dwell on "rolling the dice" (do we have control over the process of selecting a president?). The cost of electioneering being what it is today, one could surely find many similarities between the high-stakes finances of choosing a President and the vast amounts thrown at bookies.

No, I won't spend too much time on the larger concepts of horseracing as a symbol of striving to be the best. Instead I'll have some fun with the idea of Smarty Jones for President, reinforced when I heard on NPR that T-shirts with that phrase are available. Smarty has all the qualities that Americans love. The most important point is that he is "common" much in the manner of Lincoln, with no hoity-toity, imperial bloodlines. In light of the wealth enjoyed by several of our recent Presidents, the homage shown this past week to President Reagan had one predominant theme; he was a representative of America's majority, a "common man" from the Midwest who didn't forget his humble origins. Smarty's trainer and jockey are based at a small-time park, and his owner refused a blank check for him, adding to the down-home mystique.

Furthermore, Smarty Jones has a history of overcoming adversity. He's a survivor. He nearly died when he slammed his head on an iron bar and still has dents in his flesh to show it. Kenny Post, a fan who has survived bouts with cancer and a truck rear-ending, summed it up in an interview with the New York Times. "When he got busted in the face, ain't even supposed to live," he said, "I relate to that—I love racing and I love this horse. He's what America is all about because our world is in turmoil, and we've got to survive, like Smarty Jones." When have we heard words like that about someone running for President?

Smarty Jones has another favorite American attribute--he's an underdog. Slight of build in a field of larger, longer-legged champions, he brings to mind Seabiscuit, of rather ungainly proportions. To the public longing for a success story in the midst of ever-more depressing headlines, his surprising Derby and Preakness wins gave people a chance to cheer for something positive. Perhaps that is why more people watched the Belmont competition than ever before. Maybe we long for a spunky, compact, determined, genuine leader who will take on the big guys without bloodshed and win...just like Smarty Jones.

One other American phenomenon might apply here--the 15 minutes of fame. I would hazard a guess that most Americans who are not racing buffs remember only a few of the most famous horses: Man O' War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, to name a few proven big-time winners. Who remembers Funny Cide, the horse in the same position last year as Smarty this year? Unless you won or lost big money on the second-place finisher, I doubt you recall much about the also-rans. Surely we remember our Presidents—those who won the grand prize of leadership. But how well do we recall those who lost - the un-Presidents? Can you name the Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates who lost the elections of, say, 1992 or 1996? The backside to our enthusiasm for the guy running now is that we may forget about him should he lose. That's horseracing—and politics.

Unfortunately, Smarty Jones didn't win the Triple Crown. But it felt good to root for something again. People hopped the "Smarty Jones" bandwagon just as they do a political campaign. I thank the powers that be that I didn't put money on Smarty. However, in a year when we are selecting another President in the "biggest stakes" yet (oops—another horseracing metaphor), I should put money behind my contender. This is a race worth gambling on.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.