Person of the Week: Stewart Elliott

For 20 years it wasn't happening for Stewart Elliott. He was stuck riding second-rate horses at old, forgotten racetracks.

Instead of Kentucky, California or New York — where the money is and where jockeys ride horses with promise — Elliott rode at a small track on the edge of Philadelphia.

"You start off riding, you ride four or five years and then 10 years go by, 15 years go by, and I just figure it will never happen, you know? But I guess it shows you never know," Elliott said.

And then last November, it began to happen when his horse, Smarty Jones, made an impressive debut.

"To get a horse like this to ride is just fantastic. It's an unbelievable feeling. I just feel blessed," he said.

Last month, as horse racing enthusiasts were beginning to pay attention to Smarty Jones, it was time for the Kentucky Derby.

Stewart Elliott had never been to the Derby, even as a spectator, let alone to ride. Together, Elliott and Smarty Jones claimed victory.

And then the two of them blew away the competition at the Preakness.

The two have never lost — a blue-collar horse and a jockey who had no reason to believe he would ever rise this high.

"Winning the Kentucky Derby," said Elliott, "that was just unbelievable. That feeling I had after the race, it's just indescribable. I'll never forget that."

Riding Is a Tough Life

Elliott was born in Toronto. His father was a jockey, his mother a horse trainer.

Riding for a living is tough. Many jockeys struggle with their weight, and some of them struggle with drugs and alcohol. Elliott was one of them.

"I was drinking pretty good every day, you know, maybe some days more than others, but always some. Enough," he said.

Three years ago, Elliott was falling apart.

"Well, rock bottom for me was, geez, I almost killed a guy, you know," he said. "I went to jail for a little while, a couple days, and I looked and I says, you know, 'What are you doing? This is crazy!' You know, I had to make a change. I had to do something."

And he did. After almost four years, he is sober.

It is an important part of his life story. Smarty Jones' owners are also recovering alcoholics. When it was seen that the horse had such potential, they could have had more famous jockeys. But they stuck with Elliott.

"Whew, I can't explain it," said Elliott. "It's just like a gift from God I guess, you know?"

So it's the Belmont Stakes on Saturday — and perhaps the Triple Crown.

If Smarty Jones wins the Belmont, it will be the first time in 25 years that any horse has captured the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones and Stewart Elliott would have their names engraved in American racing history.

Elliott is ready.

"I think I'm going to win," he said.

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