When I was a gullible five-year-old watching re-runs on cable, my grandmother once assured me "Mister Ed" really could communicate with his owner on television.
I'm now weeks from turning 23. But after watching Saturday's 138th Belmont Stakes (a.k.a. the last leg of the Triple Crown), I'm convinced my horse-loving grandma was not crazy when she said horses could talk.
She died when I was 17. But minutes before Smarty Jones attempted to win the first Triple Crown since 1978, I felt she was laughing from above at the competing personalities of the nine horses on the track.
After winning the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, the 5-to-1 favorite Smarty Jones came in 8-0 all-time and was America's hope for a long-awaited Triple Crown.
While Smarty Jones' pre-race demeanor appeared calm and confident, his opponents were enthused to knock him from the top.
The horse with the best odds to upset Smarty Jones was hopping mad.
Just before entering his gate, Rock Hard Ten tried to psyche out everybody's favorite horse. He delayed the race's start by kicking his hind legs (his trainers had to blindfold him to calm him down).
Smarty Jones took notice and dipped his head in fear.
Winning the first two races of the Triple Crown has become routine (Smarty Jones is the sixth horse to do so since 1997). But when it came down to the Belmont, Smarty Jones' trainer knew the hopeful horse felt the added pressure.
"I was a little concerned," John Servis told reporters after the race. "(Smarty Jones) didn't look like he settled as well as he had in his previous races."
Of course not. Over 100,000 people showed up to the Belmont just to watch him win.
Rock Hard Ten and others were nuisances to Smarty Jones throughout the race.
"(We) had horses running on the inside of (us)," said Stewart Elliot, Smarty Jones' jockey. "I was trying to get him to relax..."
Had the other horses allowed Smarty Jones to control the shorter route against the inside wall, his pace may have been enough to overcome his one-length deficit to the winning horse. Instead, 36-to-1 Birdstone came from nowhere down the backstretch and overtook the red-chestnut stallion for good.
Just two years ago at the Belmont, Birdstone's jockey Edgar Prado rode 70-to-1 shot Sarava to another Triple Crown-denying upset.
"I am very sorry," Prado said following his horse's upset over Smarty Jones.
The horses' post-race responses were not so politically correct.
Smarty Jones kept his head down after losing his chance at everlasting fame. I saw a tear.
The ugly winner Birdstone couldn't help but hold up the spotted-brown head that reminded me of what I leave in my bathroom at 8:38 every morning.
Rock Hard Ten finished third, but his sly grin after the race was evidence he was aware of his role in bringing down the favorite.
Actor Alan Young was not in attendance, but Mister Ed's owner on the classic sitcom agrees horses are capable of feeling human emotion. He cited an example in his autobiography, "Mister Ed and Me."
"... Ed was so adept at his lip movements," Young wrote, "that as soon as he heard me stop talking, he would start jawing.
"One day while Lester (Ed's trainer, Lester Helton) and I were riding and talking together, Lester suddenly broke out laughing. 'Look at Ed,' he pointed. 'His lips are moving.' Evidently Ed was so used to responding to my voice that he was joining in our conversation."
After the Belmont Stakes, television reporters interviewed the owners, trainers and jockeys. But they left out the race's runners.
Athletes deserve a chance to speak. Horses are no exception.
As the "Mister Ed Theme Song" says, "Go right to the source and ask the horse ..."
A reporter should have put a microphone to Smarty Jones' mouth just to see his reaction.
You never heard of a talking horse?
-Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smarty Jones quiet after Belmont
Published: Tue Jun 08, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:09 p.m.