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The Belmont

Smarty Jones' mother comes up in the world

Owned by John Sykes of Tampa, this broodmare is carrying the racing phenomenon's only full sibling.

By SCOTT BARANCIK
Published June 4, 2004

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TAMPA - If Smarty Jones wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, owners Roy and Patricia Chapman won't be the only ones celebrating.

So will John Sykes, a Tampa businessman who bought the undefeated colt's mother from the Chapmans for $130,000 in 2001.

A Triple Crown victory probably means Sykes could auction off 12-year-old I'll Get Along for millions of dollars this fall, says thoroughbred expert Ric Waldman. Many breeders would love to own the dam of the only living Triple Crown winner.

And the fact that she's pregnant again by Smarty Jones' sire wouldn't hurt one bit. The record price paid for a broodmare was set last year at $7.1-million.

"I never dreamed we'd be in this position," Sykes said Thursday while on a business trip in Europe. "We're in a position where we'll have the only full-blooded brother or sister to Smarty Jones. It makes this race a real part of us."

It's a sweet turn of events for Sykes, 67, who took Tampa call-center operator Sykes Enterprises public in 1996 and bought a struggling horse farm outside Ocala the next year for $5.75-million. At the time, Sykes told the Ocala Star-Banner that the property he had renamed CloverLeaf Farms II was "just a little gentlemen's farm."

Some little farm.

"One of the allures of this business is that it allows somebody with a modest operation to hit a home run," said Waldman, a pedigree expert at Overbrook Farm in Lexington, Ky.

But if Smarty Jones' mom is a home run for Sykes, then his dad, Elusive Quality, is a grand slam for owner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai.

With a gestation period of 11 months, broodmares like I'll Get Along, who has perhaps 10 reproductive years left, can produce only one foal a year. By comparison, a stallion like Elusive Quality can mate with perhaps 200 mares per year, with each live birth generating a stud fee, and continue working well into his 20s.

Elusive Quality's fee already has soared with Smarty Jones' success, hitting $50,000 this year. Several observers said the fee will likely double this fall, especially if Smarty Jones becomes the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year since Affirmed in 1978.

Sykes, who moved his family and growing company to Tampa from Raleigh, N.C., in 1993, didn't know much about horses when he bought the former Due Process Stables out of bankruptcy in March 1997. Before long, however, he was learning the trade and going to auctions. In 1999, he purchased adjacent acreage for $1.2-million, according to the Marion County property tax appraiser.

The pace of growth picked up considerably after Sykes hired Brent Fernung as general manager in 2000. Since then, the staff, many of whom live in one of the dozen or so houses on the premises, has grown to about 50, Fernung said. And the number of horses on the farm has quadrupled to 200, half of them boarders.

Among them: I'll Get Along, one of a number of mares bought at auction to breed racers.

I'll Get Along was still in the Chapmans' stable in 2000 when her trainer matched her with Elusive Quality, a pedigreed racer whose stud fee then was $10,000. The pair conceived in early April, and I'll Get Along gave birth to Smarty Jones the next March.

When the Chapmans put I'll Get Along up for auction in November 2001, Fernung said he urged Sykes to buy her.

"I was there purchasing broodmares, and she was one that fit the criteria of what I was looking for: the quality of mare, the price range," Fernung said.

Smarty Jones stayed behind with the Chapmans. Since his mother moved to CloverLeaf, she has given birth to two half-brothers, one now a yearling and the other a suckling. She was reunited with Elusive Quality for a $50,000 coupling in April.

Unlike lesser breeds, some of which are impregnated via artificial insemination today, thoroughbreds like I'll Get Along and Elusive Quality still breed the old-fashioned way - or as old-fashioned as they can in the presence of several humans and a videocamera.

The broodmare is generally the one that travels to the coupling; I'll Get Along, for example, visited Elusive Quality at a breeding shed at Gainsborough Farm in Versailles, Ky. Such visits are timed to coincide with the most fertile time during the mare's cycle, said David Williamson, a pedigree adviser at Gainsborough.

To prevent the mare from rearing or kicking the stallion or one of his human handlers, an assistant lifts one of the mare's front legs until the stallion mounts her. For added protection, the mare's handlers outfit her hind hooves with padded boots.

For insurance purposes, the act is recorded on DVD. That's in case a horse or human assistant gets injured. It also serves as verification of the coupling.

"If we're really pushed, he'll breed three times a day," Williamson said of Elusive Quality.

I'll Get Along's calendar isn't quite so booked. The big question in her future is whether owner Sykes will make what Fernung called a "quick, clean profit" by selling her at auction this fall, or make a potentially larger fortune by keeping her at CloverLeaf and either selling or racing her foals.

"I haven't made a decision about that yet," Sykes said. "The market will tell us a lot more after this race."

Fernung, who plans to watch the Belmont Stakes from his home on the farm, said there's no question what he would do if he owned Smarty Jones' mother.

"I'd sell it," he said. "But then, I'm in a different tax bracket than the owner."

- Times researchers Caryn Baird and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or 727 893-8751.

SMARTY JONES

If the undefeated 3-year-old Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is first across the line at Saturday's Belmont Stakes, he would be the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

BORN: Feb. 28, 2001, on Someday Farm in Chester County, Pa.

EARNINGS: $7,413,155

SIRE: Elusive Quality, a record-setting speed horse that never won a race longer than a mile

DAM: I'll Get Along, a broodmare with speed and several stakes race wins but no history of running long races; owned by John Sykes of Tampa

OWNER: Roy Chapman, 78, a Philadelphia horseman who made a fortune selling cars. He has emphysema and watches Smarty Jones' races from a wheelchair equipped with an oxygen tank.

STUD FEES: The top stallion right now, Storm Cat, earns $500,000 each time he is bred to a mare. He is expected to bring in about $20-million this year. A stud career such as Storm Cat's could produce $150-million.

NOTE: If Smarty Jones wins, he and Seattle Slew (1977) would be the only undefeated Triple Crown champions.

SATURDAY'S RACE: Smarty Jones has been made the 2-5 morning-line favorite for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

ON TV: ESPN begins broadcasting from Belmont Park at 1 p.m., with prerace coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. WFLA-TV Ch. 8 begins its coverage of the race at 5:30 p.m.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Associated Press

[Last modified June 4, 2004, 01:10:05]


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