Smarty Jones carries hopes for Elliott, Servis

May 01, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Over the years, jockey Stewart Elliott has competed against all of the "big boys" in the business.

Missing on the résumé, however, is an assignment in both the Breeders Cup and the Triple Crown Series.

The latter will be taken care of this afternoon at Churchill Downs when the 39-year-old Philadelphia Park-based jockey rides Smarty Jones in the 130th Kentucky Derby - the first jewel in the Triple Crown Series.

"Exciting times," Elliott said Friday afternoon in the Churchill Downs' jockey's room. "It's my first trip here and I'm enjoying it."

Elliott arrived in Louisville Wednesday morning and visited the barn area each day. He thinks Smarty Jones will turn in a solid effort today, regardless of track conditions or post position.


The three-year-old son of Elusive Quality will start from the 15 hole in what has become an 18-horse race after Friday's defections of Wimbledon and St. Averil.

Elliott will try to provide trainer John Servis, a Charles Town, W.Va., native, his first Triple Crown win.

The two have been friends for over 20 years and it wasn't a great surprise that Servis stayed with Elliott when coming to the jockey selection.

"I knew John when I was a bug boy in '81 and he was an agent," Elliott said. "I went to New England to ride in '83 and when I came back in '87, he was training horses. I started to ride for him then and have been riding for him ever since."

Elliott gets first call for Servis at Philadelphia Park and the trainer didn't hesitate to select the veteran for the Kentucky Derby mount.

"I use Stewart a lot and I didn't think about naming another rider," Servis said. "He generally rides my horses at Philly and when I ship, it's his decision to go or not. Sometimes, he will stay in Philly and ride and give up an assignment away from there, but that's the decision of he and his agent, Ray Lopez."

Elliott actually likes being "the new kid on the block" and remains calm as the Derby draws near. He may not have the national recognition of a Jerry Bailey or a Pat Day, but he is no slouch when it comes to riding.

The native of Toronto already has won one $1 million race this year, guiding Smarty Jones to victory in the Arkansas Derby. He'd like nothing better than to reach the winner's circle again this afternoon.

"There's not as much pressure (to win) on John and I as there is on someone who has been here numerous times before," Elliott said.

He just wants an error-free ride.

"I hope he loads in the gate and gets away well," Elliott said when discussing Smarty Jones. "I know people question whether he can go a mile-and-a-quarter, but he handled a mile-and-an-eighth at Arkansas pretty well. I just hope to do the right things at the right time during the race."

Servis remains optimistic.

"He has settled in well. He galloped this morning (in the rain) and went to the starting gate," Servis said. "The starter was pleased with his behavior. We're ready to rock and roll."

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 in addition to the winner's share of the $1 million Run for the Roses.

"These are exciting times," Elliott said. "I really appreciate John giving me this opportunity. I ride many of his horses at Philadelphia Park and at other tracks (in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York) and I wanted to ride this one in Kentucky. It's a great honor."

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