Truckee student’s letter to race horse gets published |

Truckee student’s letter to race horse gets published

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunTruckee fifth-grader Kelly Schmidt holds "Dear Smarty" open to the page that features his letter to race horse Smarty Jones.

When Philadelphia-based horse Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes last summer, Truckee fifth-grader Kelly Schmidt cried, and he’s not afraid to admit it.

“One horse [Birdstone] beat him by a half a length. I bawled,” the 10-year-old said.

Schmidt felt a special connection to the horse, he said. Smarty had overcome a lot of adversity as a race horse ” like his small size and an accident that almost cost him his eye ” and the horse hailed from Philadelphia, just like Schmidt’s family.

“When he won the Kentucky Derby, I was really excited because I was like ‘Wow, a horse from Philadelphia.’ He was a great horse from a very low-class track,” Schmidt said.

After recovering from Smarty Jones’ foiled Triple Crown bid at Belmont, Schmidt sent his condolences to the farm where the horse had retired. In his letter, Schmidt told Smarty how disappointed he was with the loss.

“The way I wrote it ” I didn’t want to make it sound phony,” Schmidt said of the letter he sent to Smarty’s owners. “I think they knew how much I love this horse.”

Schmidt wasn’t alone. In the summer of 2004 alone, Smarty Jones received more than 1 million pieces of mail from his admirers. The people who owned the farm where Smarty retired weren’t sure what to do with all the mail, so they approached a publishing company to place them in a book.

Jump forward a few months. In early November 2004, the Schmidts received a knock at their door. A woman, also with the last name Schmidt, told Kelly Schmidt that a man at a book publishing company was looking for him. Since the Schmidt’s weren’t listed, the woman went to the chamber of commerce to find the Schmidt family’s address.

A publishing company, looking for Kelly Schmidt, had called all the Schmidts in Truckee to track him down. His letter had been chosen to appear with 79 other letters in the book “Dear Smarty, A Collection of Letters Written to Smarty Jones,” and the writer, Billy Valentine, wanted to interview him.

After he found out, “I think I was in a state of shock,” Schmidt said.

The woman got to Schmidt just in time ” it would be a matter of weeks before the book went to print.

“If it wasn’t for her, this never would have happened,” he said.

In the following week, Valentine interviewed Schmidt three times, and “Dear Smarty” was released just after Christmas.

In the book, Valentine had a lot to say about Schmidt:

“Kelly Schmidt is an absolutely amazing 10-year-old young man, and one of the nicest people you will find anywhere,” Valentine wrote. “He fell in love with [Smarty Jones] when he found out Smarty had overcome so much adversity.”

“Dear Smarty” is available at

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