- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

BALTIMORE — Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown chances could be decided today.

The Preakness Stakes often is the truest test of the three spring classics. Smarty Jones already has survived the cavalry charge of the Kentucky Derby, where it’s often better to be lucky than good. There aren’t any standout horses awaiting him June5 in the Belmont Stakes, the 11/2-mile race that is the longest of the major U.S. stakes. Hence, Smarty Jones trainer John Servis believes taking the Preakness will be the hardest challenge of all.

“If we could get through this, we could have a good chance at the Triple Crown,” he said. “For anyone to beat him, they will really have to run. While I haven’t let him do that much the last two weeks, I have seen enough to know he’s ready to roll.”

Racing is ready for another superhorse. Five Derby winners also have taken the Preakness since 1997, but none has become the 12th Triple Crown winner. It has been 26 years since Affirmed’s sweep in 1978, the longest drought ever.

More than 100,000 spectators will fill Pimlico seeking more than sun and suds. The real racegoers at the 129th running of the Preakness want to take home a memory.

“I’ll root for him because it would help racing,” said Rick Reffuge of Bear, Del., who once bought a car from the dealership of Smarty Jones owner Roy Chapman. “He’s a great story.”

Smarty Jones’ 7-0 record has brought comparisons to Seattle Slew, who was undefeated in 1977 when he won the Triple Crown. The small chestnut doesn’t mind passersby around his stall but transforms into a prima donna in the paddock. By the stretch, Smarty Jones owns the lane.

“I like his attitude better now than going into the Derby,” Servis said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable with all the attention and handling everything really good. In January, he would have knocked people out of the way.”

Although showers are possible, second-guessers might learn whether Smarty Jones can win on a dry track after skipping over the mud at Churchill Downs. The colt has galloped around Pimlico twice without a problem since arriving from Philadelphia Park on Wednesday.

“I haven’t found anything that bothers this horse,” Servis said. “Good horses don’t need to carry the track with him. They don’t need to carry the weather. I can’t see any excuses for him. I am really happy with how he’s entering the race. He’s telling me he’s ready to go.”

Red Bullet (2000) is the only non-Derby starter to win the Preakness since 1984, but five Triple Crown newcomers will test Smarty Jones in the field, which was left at 10 after The Cliff’s Edge was withdrawn yesterday because of a hoof abscess. Rock Hard Ten and Eddington, who failed to make the Derby field because of low graded stakes earnings, could factor heavily. Both like to run just off the lead, which should put them aside Smarty Jones.

Jockey Stewart Elliott figures to stay closer to Lion Heart by the final turn to prevent the Derby runner-up from stealing the shorter 13/16-mile race. However, Rock Hard Ten and Eddington could press a faster early pace that benefits a closer like Imperialism, who rallied for third in the Derby by passing seven horses in the final quarter-mile.

“We might have to be a little closer to Lion Heart anyway,” Elliott said. “It’s a little shorter distance, and the track is more speed favorable, so we’ll have to be watching him.”

But Servis doesn’t fear a stretch duel. Smarty Jones regularly has cleared rivals by the final 16th-mile, but he gamely passed Lion Heart in the stretch.

“He has shown me the one thing only great horses have, and that’s heart,” Servis said. “Ever since the Southwest Stakes [on Feb.[ThSp]28], he has shown me a whole lot of heart.”

Now Smarty Jones just has to show it again.

RICK SNIDER’S PREAKNESS PICKS

Smarty Jones is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for today’s 129th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Post time is 6:15 p.m. Laurel Park is accepting simulcasting. Channel 4 begins coverage at 5 p.m. No. 4 The Cliff’s Edge was withdrawn. Racing writer Rick Snider of The Washington Times rates the field:

No. Horse Jockey Trainer Odds Comment

7 Smarty Jones Stewart Elliott John Servis 4-5 Survives close stretch run

8 Imperialism Kent Desormeaux Kristin Mulhall 7-2 Look for big late move

11 Water Cannon Ryan Fogelsonger Linda Albert 25-1 Local grabs a share

10 Rock Hard Ten Gary Stevens Jason Orman 5-1 Dangerous but green

1 Lion Heart Mike Smith Patrick Biancone 6-1 Loses lead entering stretch

2 Borrego Victor Espinoza Beau Greely 20-1 Better than Derby showing

9 Eddington Jerry Bailey Mark Hennig 10-1 The long-shot play

6 Sir Shackleton Rafael Bejarano Nick Zito 30-1 Overmatched but decent colt

5 Song of the Sword Jorge Chavez Jennifer Pedersen 40-1 Lacks stretch kick

3 Little Matth Man Richard Migliore Martin Ciresa 50-1 Chances don’t add up


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