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Smarty Jones 'right on schedule'

May 29, 2004|By RICHARD ROSENBLATT

BENSALEM, Pa. - John Servis can breathe a little easier: Smarty Jones' final tuneup was flawless.

The trainer watched from the backstretch as his Triple Crown threat worked seven furlongs Friday morning at Philadelphia Park - his only timed workout before the Belmont Stakes.

"Absolutely perfect," Servis said. "As far as I'm concerned, we're right on schedule."

With jockey Stewart Elliott aboard, Smarty Jones glided along the track so efficiently his hoofbeats were barely audible as he passed by the grandstand.

Though the time of 1:29.20 was slow, it was the type of work Servis was looking for to keep his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner content.

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"He got to playing a little bit toward the end of his cooling out period, and let out a few squeals," Servis said, "so I may let him get a real strong gallop Tuesday, or something along those lines. I'm real happy where he is right now."

So is Elliott, who rarely works out Smarty.

"He felt super," Elliott said. "He's the same old Smarty Jones."

Of course, there's still a week to go before the Belmont, when Smarty Jones will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978. But to have the final major workout over without incident is a huge relief. Especially since it went so well.

Last year, Funny Cide's final workout before his Triple try was a disaster. The 2003 Derby and Preakness winner blazed five furlongs in 57.80 four days before the Belmont, then finished third in the slop behind Empire Maker.

Servis is well aware of Funny Cide's exploits, as well as what else can occur in the final days before the Belmont.

"I try to think positive, but it's a horse race and a whole lot can go wrong," he said. "I can't tell you how many times I've run the best horses and gotten beat. Look at War Emblem stumbling at the gate. And Funny Cide blew out in 58. There are so many things that can go wrong."

Now that Smarty Jones has cleared a major hurdle, his training schedule tapers off: A walk Saturday, a jog Sunday, a gallop early next week, a van ride to Belmont Park either Tuesday night or Wednesday and a gallop or two over a track he has never run on.

And then it's Belmont time, where racing officials are expecting a record crowd nearing 125,000 to watch Smarty Jones try to end racing's longest drought between Triple Crown winners, 26 years.

If he succeeds, Smarty would join Seattle Slew as the only other horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record, and also become racing's richest thoroughbred with earnings totaling nearly $13 million.

So far, Smarty Jones hasn't shown any signs of fatigue. Since the May 15 Preakness, the smallish, red chestnut has been full of energy and had to be restrained in his gallops before Friday's workout. Trainer Bob Baffert, who watched his three Derby-Preakness winners all come up short in the Belmont, has said the wear and tear on Triple contenders usually begins about two weeks before the Belmont.

Smarty Jones, Servis says, may be getting stronger.

"As good as he came out of the Preakness, I was shocked," Servis said. "And he's showing me signs that he can be going forward. I don't see any signs of him starting to tail off."

SMARTY NOTES: On a non-racing day at Philly Park, about 100 people - mostly media and horsesmen - watched Smarty's workout from the rail. A TV helicopter hovered overhead. ... Before Friday, Smarty's last timed workout was April 24, a week before he won the Kentucky Derby ... Split times for Friday's work were 26.60 for the first quarter-mile, 51.20 for the half and 1:16.20 for three-quarters. He galloped out a mile in 1:44.40.

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