- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

ELMONT, N.Y. — An expected wet track won’t undermine a Triple Crown aspirant for the second straight year today. Smarty Jones is a mudder.

A half-inch of rain is expected before the 136th Belmont Stakes that could turn the Belmont Park course sloppy for the second consecutive running. Funny Cide couldn’t handle the track in finishing third last year, but Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby in the slop and Arkansas Derby in the mud.

“I don’t think [a wet track] is an advantage,” trainer John Servis said yesterday. “Everybody thought the wet track helped him tremendously [in the Kentucky Derby], but then he came back in the Preakness on a dry track and ran a lot better. It might be a disadvantage to other horses that don’t like an off track, but my horse is a good horse that can run on anything.”

Servis felt worse for the expected 120,000 fans who might have to endure cold, wet conditions once more.

“It looks like it could be real bad,” he said. “I hope we don’t have to go through what we did at Kentucky [with a downpour]. I was hoping for a dry, fast track for the people. It would have been a lot nicer.”

Smarty’s 1-9

Smarty Jones was the 1-9 favorite after advance wagering of $45,306 at Belmont. Rock Hard Ten (23-1) was second choice, followed by Purge (27-1), Eddington (28-1), Master David (31-1), Royal Assault (36-1), Tap Dancer (41-1), Birdstone (41-1) and Caiman (43-1).

Souvenir hunters and bridge jumpers already have impacted wagering. One person bought 10,000 $2 win tickets while another wagered $13,000 in $2 win increments. A third person bought 500 $2 win tickets.

Six-figure show wagers also are expected today by speculators seeking a quick 5 percent minimum return. They’re called bridge jumpers because an off-the-board finish by Smarty Jones would lose the “sure thing” and make the bettor jump off the closest bridge.

Numerology 101

Smarty Jones drew the No. 9 post in his bid to become 9-0. He drew No. 7 before taking his seventh straight in the Kentucky Derby. Servis said there have been too many coincidences to dismiss, especially involving late trainer Bobby Camac, who arranged for Smarty Jones’ breeding.

“There are so many things that I feel it’s fate,” Servis said. “It seems like every other day one [sign] pops up. I saw a show with Bobby Camac’s kids and one of the first things his daughter was asked was, ‘Do you think Bobby is looking over you and watching this whole thing’ and she said, ‘Absolutely. The signs we’ve gotten have been unbelievable.’ ”

Rocky start

Rock Hard Ten doesn’t like the starting gate, mostly because there’s little room for the massive colt.

“He’s nose to tail touching the gate,” said New York Racing Association starter Bobby Duncan of the 1,200-pounder. “Horses are naturally claustrophobic, and nature provides for them to flee to survive. When you lock them up, it takes that defense away.”

Rock Hard Ten delayed the Preakness Stakes start by several minutes as the gate crew struggled to load him. New York officials plan to blindfold him entering the gate after practicing it earlier this week.

“Horses sometimes get a little stage fright,” Duncan said. “As everyone saw in the Preakness, you don’t want to get in a fight with him. He’s just too big and strong.”

Down the stretch

Servis is considering entering Smarty Jones in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park on Aug. 8 and the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 6. … Forget Broadway — Smarty Jones will have his name in lights on the overhead Goodyear blimp if he wins. The airship is part of NBC’s coverage. … Smarty Jones is staying in the Barn 5 that housed 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat. … The Belmont card includes six graded stakes races worth $2.2 million, including the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap.

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