Espinosa was first to take a ride with Servis

May 23, 2004

In 1985 at the Charles Town Races, a young trainer named John Servis bought a cheap race horse to run and went searching for a jockey.Victor Espinosa answered the call.

"John was just getting into the racing business at the time and he was ready to run his first horse," Espinosa said. "He and my son, Victor, attended school together and he asked Victor whether I might be interested in riding the horse."

Espinosa agreed to ride Two Fisted. Espinosa, his son and Servis traveled to Penn National in Grantville, Pa., in search of victory.

"We won," Espinosa said. "It was John's first win as a trainer and I was happy to be part of it."


Servis' father Joe, a jockey who later became a racing official, remembers the occasion.

"My wife and I were on a cruise at the time and we get this telegram 'Two Fisted by 10,'" Joe said. "We had a good laugh."

Weeks later, John Servis left Shepherd College and the Charles Town setting to embark on a career which would take him primarily to racetracks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

And now, many years later, he finds himself in the national spotlight as the handler of the best 3-year-old in the country - Smarty Jones.

The undefeated son of Exclusive Quality has notched the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in his list of eight victories. The target for No. 9 is the Belmont on June 5, when Smarty Jones will try to become only the 12th horse in thoroughbred racing history to win the Triple Crown.

"I'm real happy for John. I wish him the best," Espinosa said. "He's a hard worker, a good man and he deserves a lot of credit. His dad was a jockey. I rode against him. He later became a guild representative and a state steward. They're a first-class family and very deserving of this attention and success."

Following his race-riding career, Espinosa also became a trainer and - over the years - has conditioned race horses primarily in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

And like most folks in the horse racing industry, Espinosa says Smarty Jones is the "real thing" - quite capable of making horse racing history.

There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

"(Smarty Jones) showed me something in the Preakness," Espinosa said. "He won the Derby but there was still some question marks. He answered those questions in the Preakness. It was a great effort ... a powerful performance."

Smarty Jones ran away from the competition and the 11 1/2-length margin of victory was the largest in the Preakness Stakes' 129-year history.

"He's remarkable," Joe Servis said of Smarty Jones. "The morning after the Preakness, everyone was tired and played out but he was in his stall, playing around, almost as if he was ready to race again."

Wilson makes progress

Maryland-based jockey Rick Wilson has shown improvement at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he has been since suffering severe head injuries from a May 8 spill at Pimlico.

Wilson, 50, was thrown when Advance to Go stumbled out of the gate during the second race of the card. Wilson was airlifted to the trauma center.

"Rick was doing good today. He opened his eyes and recognized me. Hopefully, he'll be out of the intensive care unit this weekend," said John Saltzman, Jr., Wilson's longtime agent on Friday.

Salzman said Wilson is in for "a slow recovery process." Wilson competes most of the year in Maryland but rides at other Mid-Atlantic tracks once Pimlico shuts down for the spring meeting.

Salzman said that Wilson's wife, Jean, and their four children appreciate the concern, support and prayers from Rick's many friends.

Wilson ranks 20th on the career wins list with 4,939 victories and has seven classic mounts on his resume - including five mounts in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

He missed a little more than a year after suffering a broken right leg on Oct. 12, 2001.

Pony tales

- Can you name the 11 Triple Crown winners?

They are Sir Barton (1919), Gallent Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).

Hopefully, we can add Smarty Jones to that list on June 5.

Only War Admiral and Count Fleet went undefeated during their 3-year-old campaigns.

- Last Saturday's 129th Preakness Stakes set records for attendance and handle.

A crowd of 112,668 packed Pimlico, the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in the state, and wagered $85,120,667 - including $58,791,406 on the state's signature event.

- The Preakness Stakes carried a purse of $1 million, considerably more than the $2,050 offered for the inaugural running in 1873.

- and have added Smarty Jones sections featuring lifetime race records and pedigrees of the 3-year-old sensation, as well as the all-time leading earners and the 11 Triple Crown winners.

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