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Among area fans, Smarty's still a champ

June 06, 2004|By WANDA T. WILLIAMS

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

Smarty Jones may have lost the Triple Crown at Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but his trainer, John Servis, still is a big winner in his hometown.

The anticipation of Saturday's race drew a large crowd to Charles Town Races & Slots. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on U.S. 340 heading into the track Saturday afternoon.

"There's more interest this year because this horse has a local flavor, being trained by a guy that was born and raised here," said Jeff Gilleas, publicity manager at Charles Town Races & Slots.

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Gilleas also described Smarty Jones as a "blue collar" horse that regular people identify with.

Several area horse trainers took their families, and a van filled with 15 more friends traveled to the Belmont on Saturday to cheer Servis on, said high school friend and Charles Town Races & Slots marketing representative Debbie McClure.

"Everybody is just so happy for him here," said McClure, wearing a Smarty Jones baseball cap and T-shirt.

Others, such as Cyndy O'Bannon, also hoped for a Smarty win.

"It's fantastic," O'Bannon said. "I wish him the best luck in the world. He's always been a super nice person. I don't know how he stays so calm on TV - I couldn't do it."

Smarty Jones, the odds-on favorite to win the Belmont, fell short in his bid to win the Triple Crown, losing by one length to Birdstone, a 36-1 shot.

O'Bannon grew up with Servis at the racetrack and, like him, she's still in the business.

"I'm a owner, trainer and breeder (at Charles Town)," she said.

In Charles Town, the Servis name is synonymous with horse training, breeding and anything related to the sport.

"Joe Servis (John's dad) was a rider at a variety of tracks and rode horses here until he retired," said Roger R. Ramey, vice president of public affairs at Charles Town Races & Slots. According to Ramey, Joe Servis worked for The Jockeys' Guild and the West Virginia Racing Commission.

For others, the Servis-Smarty Jones connection represents a rags-to-riches story. Servis, who wasn't a nationally known trainer, was hired by owner Roy Chapman to train Smarty Jones.

Many fans saw Smarty Jones as an end to Philadelphia's 21-year sports championship drought. His win over 19 other horses in the Kentucky Derby and his victory in the Preakness Stakes convinced fans that he might pull off the first Triple Crown win since 1978.

"Charles Town is in the process of planning a parade for John," McClure said. "We're just so proud of him."

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