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Derby champ has local ties

May 02, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

larryy@herald-mail.com

LOUISVILLE, KY. - Pressure? What pressure?

John Servis, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones, wasn't feeling the pressure at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

"Winning the Arkansas Derby and getting the opportunity just to run here, that was the pressure," the Charles Town, W.Va., native said following Saturday's Run for the Roses. "I wanted to get here so badly for Mr. and Mrs. (Roy and Pat) Chapman. They are great owners and deserved the chance to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby."

Despite a perfect 5-for-5 record entering the $1 million Grade II Arkansas Derby, the 3-year-old son of Elusive Quality had not recorded a graded stakes victory and, therefore, was not eligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

Eligibility for the first leg of the VISA Triple Crown series is based on the graded stakes earnings of the top 20 horses

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That was taken care of with an impressive win at the Oaklawn Park Racetrack in Hot Springs, Ark., and the $600,000 winning purse easily qualified the thoroughbred for the Derby.

"I know we had some doubters, but he's the real thing," Servis, a Charles Town High School and Shepherd College graduate, said when discussing Smarty Jones. "I've always had a lot of confidence in the horse and I really thought he could win the race. And the folks who supported my horse I'm sure were happy when they cashed their tickets."

Smarty Jones returned winning mutuels of $10.20, $6.20 and $4.80. He went to the post as the 4-1 betting favorite in the 18-horse field.

Given a masterful ride by Philadelphia Park-based jockey Stewart Elliott, Smarty Jones overtook front-running Lion Heart in midstretch and drew clear by nearly three lengths.

In the process, he became the first unbeaten winner to triumph in the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew turned the trick in 1977.

"It's a real thrill," Servis said of the victory. "Ever since I started training horses at Charles Town, it has been a goal to get to the Kentucky Derby. I'm here and I won and I'm very happy."

With the win, the Chapmans picked up a $5 million bonus for winning the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby in succession.

"There's 5 million reasons why I like the state of Arkansas," Roy Chapman said,

Servis said he and the Chapmans will discuss Smarty Jones' future plans this weekend.

"I'd love to run in the Preakness, but we'll do what's right for the horse," Servis said. "We're probably going to ship him back to Philadelphia Park (Servis' home base) and then make a decision."

The Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the VISA Triple Crown Series, will be contested at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 15.

"Smarty Jones has had a tough campaign since February," Servis said. "We'll see how he comes out of the race before making a decision."

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