- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

ELMONT, N.Y. — Trash talk usually dominates post position draws, but opposing trainers have practically conceded Saturday’s 136th Belmont Stakes to Smarty Jones.

“Where do I sign up for second to Smarty Jones?” said Nick Zito, who enters Birdstone and Royal Assault. “Why not? Second to a hero — there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Smarty Jones is the 2-5 morning line favorite to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 26 years. Trainers often enter against heavy favorites hoping the choice runs poorly or has bad luck. The $200,000 purse for second isn’t bad either.

Given that nine Triple Crown seekers in a row have lost the Belmont, it’s not a bad strategy. However, opposing trainers practically surrendered after Smarty Jones’ record 111/2-length Preakness Stakes victory May15.

Master David trainer Bobby Frankel thwarted Funny Cide’s Triple Crown quest last year when his Empire Maker took the Belmont. However, he doesn’t pretend to be a spoiler this time.

“It would be like me running against Carl Lewis,” Frankel said. “Smarty Jones is the better horse.”

Yeah, yeah — says Smarty Jones trainer John Servis. Servis smiled politely at the accolades from opponents during the post position draw yesterday without believing it will be an easy victory.

“I know all the guys are going in to win it,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’ve got a bull’s eye on our back.”

Trainer Jack Van Berg has called Servis regularly with advice based on the former’s 1987 Triple Crown miss with Alysheba. Trainer Bob Baffert also dispenses tips after Belmont losses cost him three Triple Crowns. Then again, both can be gracious because neither will face Servis or Smarty Jones this year.

Opposing trainers are pleading for mercy and a little luck. Six runners already have lost to Smarty Jones at least once. Trainer Todd Pletcher entered Purge after losing twice to his nemesis.

“I went to Arkansas twice, and Smarty Jones whipped us pretty good,” Pletcher said. “It’s very difficult to find a weakness there. Hopefully, we can change tactics.”

Rock Hard Ten might be the leading contender after a respectable runner-up Preakness showing in only his fourth start. The massive gray colt could benefit most if Smarty Jones gets pushed too hard during the early pace.

“Maybe the added distance and experience of the Preakness will help Rock Hard Ten,” trainer Jason Orman said.

Smarty Jones drew the outside No.9 post that is meaningless given the race’s 11/2 miles and small field. Smarty Jones isn’t expected to vie for the early lead, so dropping inside from his far start isn’t a detriment.

“I’m much happier with the nine than the one,” Servis said. “We can sit outside and just worry about what’s going on inside of us.”

Purge is the 5-1 second choice while Rock Hard Ten is 8-1 and Eddington 10-1. The rest of the field are long shots with Birdstone 15-1, Master David and Royal Assault 20-1 and Caiman and Tap Dancer 50-1.

“I think Purge and Rock Hard Ten are among the best 3-year-olds in the country,” Servis said. “We beat Purge twice and both times he was in front. Now in his last race he came off the pace and ran a huge race.”

Notes — A record amount may be bet on Smarty Jones to win. More than $100million will be wagered on the Belmont with Smarty Jones probably gaining at least 90 percent of it. Belmont officials expect a record crowd given the projected sunny, 75-degree day…. Smarty Jones arrived at 11:50a.m. after a two-hour van ride from Philadelphia. … Jockey Alex Solis will ride Rock Hard Ten after Gary Stevens opted not to return from France and Pat Valenzuela’s appeal to delay his suspension failed.

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