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Sports

Township stirs up small turf war over Smarty Jones

Dan Gelston Associated Press

BENSALEM, Pa. — Smarty Jones may need a new nickname.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has been dubbed the “Philly Flash” or the “Philly Flyer” while being presented to the country as Philadelphia’s first sports champion in more than two decades.

One problem. Turns out, the ol’ Philly Flyer is from … Bensalem?

Where?

Until about two months ago, Bensalem Township, an area of 21 square miles, was the buffer township between Philadelphia on the West and the rest of Bucks County on the East and Northeast. Now it’s the town that wants its horse back.

“We want our recognition,” Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo said.

Odds are, no one will start calling Smarty Jones the “Bensalem Blazer” anytime soon. It hasn’t helped that Smarty Jones’ home in Bensalem is called Philadelphia Park.

But the township is staking a claim to Smarty in this turf war.

DiGirolamo wants to rename one of Bensalem’s main thoroughfares after its main thoroughbred, hoping to turn Street Road into “Smarty Jones Boulevard.” Philadelphia Park is located on Street Road.

“Philadelphia is starving for a winner,” DiGirolamo said. “They can grasp at it, but they need to remember it’s in Bensalem and not just Philly.”

Who can blame Philadelphia sports fans for wanting to latch on to this undefeated colt?

They shed tears over lost Stanley Cups. They bemoan the big-game failures of big-time teams. They call the all-sports station and yakety-yak a blue streak. They watch the city build new ballparks but rarely see championships.

Then along comes Smarty Jones, the plucky horse that needs only a win in the June 5 Belmont Stakes for the first Triple Crown since 1978.

Bensalem started snorting when Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell called the colt’s Preakness win a great day for Philadelphia, and the city council started talking about a parade down Broad Street — which hasn’t staged a celebration for a pro sports team since the 76ers in 1983.

“The governor is from Philadelphia. What do you expect him to do?” DiGirolamo said.

City newspapers and news broadcasts have made only cursory mentions of Bensalem, if at all, but the connection to Bensalem runs deeper than Smarty Jones.

Trainer John Servis has lived in Bensalem for parts of almost 24 years and jockey Stewart Elliott also lives in Bucks County. So does exercise rider Pete Van Trump. And while owners Pat and Roy Chapman have car dealerships in Philadelphia, they reside just outside the city.

Servis has tried to stay out of the debate.

“He’s a horse that America loves,” Servis said. “I think he belongs to everybody. Everybody can root for this horse. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

But it’s been a burr under the saddle for those in Bensalem who want Philadelphians to take their cheesesteaks and stuff it.

“They keep saying it’s Philly’s horse. It hasn’t done much for Bensalem,” said Ellis Saltzman, of Bensalem. “Philadelphia should back off.”

In a downtown Philadelphia bar, some patrons accused Bensalem of sour grapes.

“I think they should get a life. Who ever heard of Bensalem?” said Harry Williford. “They don’t even play good high school football there. It’s a Philadelphia horse. It’s Philadelphia Park.”

Tomlinson said Smarty Jones has lifted the spirits of so many people that all Pennsylvanians can claim him as their own.

“Bensalem is the home of the Smarty Jones,” he said. “But as much as I’d like to claim this horse, he belongs to everybody.”

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