BALTIMORE — The move came in a flash.
Lion Heart had the lead, Smarty Jones was lurking and jockey Stewart Elliott was waiting for the right moment to go. The Preakness was setting up according to plan.
Around the far turn, Elliott angled his Kentucky Derby winner to the inside of the pacesetter, and the horses entered the stretch together.
And then the race was over.
With one breathtaking surge, Smarty Jones left the field far behind, his lead building with every powerful stride over the final eighth of a mile. By the time he crossed the finish line, the little chestnut colt had delivered a record 11 1/2 -length victory to set the stage for a dramatic Triple Crown try at the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
“I had another gear left. Unfortunately, when I hit the other gear, Smarty Jones hit about four more gears,” said Gary Stevens, who was aboard runner-up Rock Hard Ten. “Smarty Jones looks like he’s just getting warmed up right here at the finish.”
Even after 1 3/16 miles on a hot and hazy afternoon at Pimlico, the undefeated Smarty was still running hard well beyond the finish line. The Belmont is 1 1/2 miles, the longest of the Triple Crown races, but there seems to be no stoppin’ him now.
“I have a good horse, but that was a great horse that beat us,” Rock Hard Ten’s trainer, Jason Orman, said.
Elliott won’t quibble with that.
“He’s just unbelievable. He just keeps getting better, this son of a gun. I mean, he just did it so easy,” the jockey said.
Smarty Jones is 8-for-8 with one to go in his bid to become just the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978.
He would also claim another $5 million bonus and become racing’s richest horse.
By trouncing nine rivals, Smarty Jones added another amazing chapter to racing’s feel-good story of the year.
The record crowd of 112,668 roared when Elliott asked this sensational Pennsylvania-bred to make his winning move. Down the stretch, the 39-year-old rider merely tapped him with the whip twice in the final eighth-of-a-mile, and Smarty took off like a shot. The margin of victory topped the record of 10 lengths by Survivor in 1873, in the first Preakness.
Lion Heart, runner-up in the Derby, faded to fourth. Rock Hard Ten, in just his fourth start, finished strong for second ahead of Eddington. Imperialism was fifth, followed by Sir Shackleton, Borrego, Little Matth Man, Song of the Sword and Water Cannon.
“Smarty Jones, man, he’s just an amazing horse,” said Mike Smith, who was aboard Lion Heart. “I think me and Gary are on some great colts, just born in the wrong years.”
Winning time for the race was 1:55.59, well off the record of 1:53.40 held by Louis Quatorze (1996) and Tank’s Prospect (1985).
The overpowering win put in place some mind-boggling possibilities for the 3-yard-old who has captured America’s fancy — as Funny Cide did last year before his Triple Crown bid fell short in the Belmont.
Smarty Jones will be the sixth horse in the last eight years with a Triple chance, but Smarty is the only one who hasn’t lost.
A victory in the Belmont and Smarty Jones would join Seattle Slew as the only Triple Crown winners with unbeaten records.