- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

BALTIMORE — Is Smarty Jones better than Spectacular Bid?

Trainer Bud Delp has called Spectacular Bid the “greatest horse to ever look through a bridle,” even though he lost his bid for the Triple Crown by stepping on a safety pin hours before the 1979 Belmont Stakes.

However, the Hall of Fame Maryland trainer thinks he has spied a horse just as good: Smarty Jones, the undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby who enters tomorrow’s 129th Preakness Stakes as the favorite.

“There hasn’t been a horse as good as Bid,” Delp said yesterday. “But there could be an exception this year. If Smarty Jones does to the Preakness field what he did to the Derby field, then I think we’ll be talking about a great horse.”

Delp has joined the steady stream of Smarty Jones backers. A crowd of more than 5,000 watched a recent workout at Philadelphia Park. Gov. Ed Rendell asked trainer John Servis to bring the colt to the capital steps in Harrisburg, Pa., for a photo op with legislators and offered to stage a parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia.

“They don’t know [better],” Servis said of the requests from politicians. “All the governor knew was Philadelphia was craving for a champion. He wanted to give the people something, and as far as he knew we could put him on a flatbed and drive him down Broad Street.”

Servis has approached the Preakness cautiously. He considered skipping the race, but his colt trained well enough after the Derby to merit a run for the Triple Crown.

Watching non-Derby runners Eddington and Rock Hard Ten walk down the barn past Smarty Jones’ stall didn’t help Servis’ confidence either. Smarty Jones looks like a pony compared to that pair and Imperialism.

“Rock Hard Ten and Eddington walk by, and they’re massive,” Servis said. “So when you see him against those horses, you say he’s the little guy competing against those horses and is a little bit of an underdog.”

The Alibi Breakfast traditionally gives trainers a prerace chance to offer excuses why their horses may have trouble during the race. Smarty Jones was listed yesterday as an 8-5 morning-line favorite, but Servis wasted no time minimizing his horse’s chances.

“This is the toughest race he’s had,” Servis said. “To come out of the biggest race of his life in two weeks against the same horses and fresh horses that put the bull’s-eye on his back, he has to step up to win. He’s very vulnerable.”

Delp, who never professed doubt when he trained Spectacular Bid, wasn’t taken in by Servis’ remarks. He knows the mind games every favorite faces.

“Everyone wants to beat the favorite,” Delp said, “but that’s going to take an awful lot of doing. Smarty Jones is very impressive.”

Smarty Jones galloped once around Pimlico at dawn, pestered by gnats as he entered the track. He likely will be swarmed by other contenders early in the Preakness — a change of strategy from the Derby, where Smarty Jones was allowed to stalk Lion Heart until the final turn.

Eddington and Rock Hard Ten, who join the Triple Crown chase after missing the Derby because of insufficient graded stakes earnings, share the same running style and may force Smarty Jones into a swifter early pace. Servis conceded he wants to avoid a speed duel with Lion Heart.

“When you hook Lion Heart, he’ll dig in,” Servis said. “The last thing I want is for my horse to make a run at him too soon and not have enough when Imperialism or one of those horses makes a [late] run at him.”

A victory tomorrow would make Smarty Jones the sixth horse in eight years to win the Derby and the Preakness. The previous five failed in the Belmont, leaving Affirmed in 1978 as the last Triple Crown winner.

Spectacular Bid’s reign as the best of the rest won’t end easily either.

“To be as good as Bid, Smarty Jones will have to do more than he has already because Bid was 26 of 30,” Delp said. “This horse genuinely has a shot to be the best racehorse there’s been since Bid.”

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