- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

BENSALEM, Pa. — Smarty Jones is even winning mind games.

The Triple Crown seeker’s final workout yesterday before the 136th Belmont Stakes on June5 was “absolutely perfect,” said trainer John Servis, despite jockey Stewart Elliott trying to trick the colt into a slower pace by running away from the usual path near the rail. Smarty Jones covered seven-eighths of a mile in 1:291/5 at Philadelphia Park, including the final three one-eighth mile segments in 12 seconds each.

Elliott kept Smarty Jones near the middle of the track to relax the colt before ducking inside on the final turn to simulate stretch conditions. The unusual tactic prevented Smarty Jones from working too aggressively by thinking it was a gallop instead of a workout before the stretch run. The strong finish indicates the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner can endure the Belmont’s 1 miles — the longest major U.S. stakes.

“We’re right on schedule,” Servis said. “The fact that he’s in there playing [around in his stall] after the work tells me I can do a little more with him through the week.”

Servis’ biggest concern was avoiding a repeat of Funny Cide’s overzealous workout in his final prep last year before the gelding tired in the Belmont to lose his Triple Crown bid. Servis ordered Elliott to work slowly for the first half to prevent Smarty Jones from running too hard overall. Elliott also pulled up Smarty Jones quickly after the finish line.

“I told Stew, ‘When you break him off from the pony, I want you easing off. I almost want you walking off. Don’t get him down near the rail until you get to the three-eighths pole, because the closer you get to the rail, he’s going to get into the bit and want to go on,’” Servis said. “I did think about Funny Cide, and I didn’t want Smarty Jones to do that going into the Belmont. This work today was absolutely perfect.”

The 5:40 a.m. workout before 50 fans and an overhead news helicopter was the colt’s first serious test over his home track since Dec.21. Stewart doesn’t normally work Smarty Jones in the mornings, but Servis skipped the usual exercise rider, who weighs much more, because it was a long workout. The Belmont strategy will mimic the workout: relax early and accelerate entering the half-mile stretch.

“For me, the key is to get my horse to relax,” Elliott said. “We have a long way to go. I think that’s my main concern — to get him to relax so he can get the distance.”

The Belmont is expected to draw seven rivals following Friends Lake’s defection after undergoing surgery Wednesday for a knee chip. Tapit and Rock Hard Ten are Smarty Jones’ leading contenders. Royal Assault, Birdstone, Eddington, Tap Dancer and The Cliff’s Edge are also expected.

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