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Servis, with a smile, awaits Derby

April 25, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

Area thoroughbred horse racing fans will have a real rooting interest in next Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Former Charles Town, W.Va., resident John Servis trains undefeated Smarty Jones in the Run for the Roses while Maryland-based jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride Tapit.

Both horses are among the leading contenders in what shapes up as a 20-horse field for the first event in the VISA Triple Crown Series for 3-year-olds.

"Competing in the Kentucky Derby has been a lifetime goal," the 45-year-old Servis said. "And being there, with a very competitive horse, makes it that much sweeter. I'm real excited."

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Servis, who will use the services of Philadelphia Park-based jockey Stewart Elliott on Saturday, is already at Churchill Downs.

He entered a horse in a maiden race Saturday and anxiously - or is the word reluctantly - awaits all the hoopla leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

Smarty Jones was vanned from Keeneland Race Course to Churchill Downs on Thursday and was scheduled to gallop over the historic racetrack on Friday and breeze on Saturday.

"I've pretty much mapped out the pre-Derby schedule," Servis said. "He'll gallop all week and will be handled by Willie Martinez, a regular rider at Churchill Downs. Stewart is coming to Louisville on Wednesday."

Later that evening, the post-position draw will be held.

"I'm not sure what post position order I will choose," Servis said. "I want to confer with the starter and see how they load the horses at Churchill Downs. I wouldn't want him to be loaded early in the process. I wouldn't mind being the last to load in the main gate, not the auxiliary gate."

Servis says he has a legitimate chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

The Philadelphia Park-based conditioner said "my horse improves with every race. I'm optimistic he can turn in another good effort in the Derby."

Smarty Jones has won six straight races.

He made his racing debut on Nov. 9, 2003 in a 6-furlong Maiden Special Event at Philadelphia Park and followed with victories in the Pennsylvania Nursery, the Count Fleet Stakes, the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby.

The first two races were at Philadelphia Park before heading to Aqueduct and running the last three at Oaklawn Park.

The son of Elusive Quality sports career earnings of $878,355 for Servis and owners Roy and Pat Chapman (Someday Farm in New Hope, Pa.).

Last July, the thoroughbred was almost killed when he reared in the starting gate while schooling at Philadelphia Park. He recovered from a fractured skull, winning his initial start, the only non-stakes start of his career.

Should Smarty Jones become the first undefeated Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977, the Pennsylvania-bred will collect a $5 million Centennial bonus from Oaklawn Park for sweeping the Rebel, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby.

"I appreciate John giving me the opportunity to ride Smarty Jones in the Derby," Elliott said from Philadelphia Park on Friday. "He's a nice race horse. I was impressed when he won at 6 furlongs, then 7 and then a mile-and-an-eighth in the Arkansas Derby. He has speed, it's a matter of harnessing that speed to go a distance."

The Kentucky Derby is contested at 1-1/4 miles.

Over the years, Elliott has competed in a number of major stakes races but will reach a lifetime dream in competing in the Kentucky Derby.

"I've never competed in a Breeders' Cup race or a Derby, so I look forward to next Saturday," Elliott said. "I've really been impressed with this horse."

Dominguez also will be riding in his first Kentucky Derby although he has ridden in three straight Preakness Stakes events.

Dominguez, who led the nation in winners in 2001 and 2003, said "I am very excited and as we get closer to the race, I'll get even more excited. It is the Derby and I have a horse with a real chance. Some of the world's best riders wanted to ride this horse."

Impossible dream?

Am I missing something here?

It's almost "post time" for the Kentucky Derby $5 Million Pay Day contest, the online competition that challenges fans to pick the exact order of finish for the race.

The correct selections could earn the winner a $5 million pay day.

How can someone select 20 horses? How about trying to hit an exacta or a trifecta for a tuneup?

Players can register at www.kentuckyderby.com, the official Web site of the Kentucky Derby, and make their selections immediately following the Kentucky Derby Post Position draw on Wednesday at approximately 7 p.m.

Contestants can make their selections up until 5:45 p.m. on Derby Day.

The grand prize for picking the Derby's exact order of finish is $5 million.

The contest is free.

Pony Tales

n Apprentice jockey Eric Camacho captured his first career win in last Sunday's first race at Pimlico.

Two races later, he again reached the wnners' circle.

He is the son of former rider Enrique Camacho.

n Pimlico held its first turf race of the spring meeting on Wednesday.

The spring session features eight stakes races scheduled on the grass. The first added-money turf offering is the Henry Clark Stakes next Saturday.

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2311, or by e-mail at larryy@herald-mail.com

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