Smarty Jones has final Belmont workout
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
BENSALEM, Pa. -- The world's favorite horse ran around in a big circle Friday morning, and he made millions of people happy. Good news is so rare, and Smarty Jones created it effortlessly, as usual.
Smarty Jones, along with his companion, the 23-year-old stable pony, Butterscotch, emerged from the stable area at 5:40 a.m., 10 minutes after the workout was scheduled to begin. No one in the group of about 50 people, most of them media, complained or threatened to go back to bed. After walking toward the backstretch, the two horses turned around and cantered down the stretch, with Smarty farther from the inside rail. At 5:51, they got down to serious business. Entering the clubhouse turn, Elliott left Butterscotch and exercise rider Pete Van Trump behind as Smarty moved over the ground with his fluid, efficient stride.
The fractions were 26 3/5 seconds for a quarter-mile, :39 1/5 for 3 furlongs, :51 1/5 for a half-mile, 1:03.1 for 5 furlongs and 1:16 1/5 for 6 furlongs as he passed the finish line. Roy and Pat Chapman's Pennsylvania-bred completed 7 furlongs in 1:29 1/5 and galloped out in 1:44 2/5. The time was nothing special, but speed was not the object for his first breeze since April 24, the Saturday before the Derby, at Churchill Downs.
"It went great," Elliott said. "It was just what we were looking for. Going into the far turn near the three-sixteenths pole, I let him get over to the rail and he picked up the pace. He felt strong and he went perfect.
"He's the same old Smarty Jones."
Servis, who watched from the clockers' stand near the half-mile pole on the backstretch, loved what he saw.
"I was very happy with that," he said. "He settled really well. Stewart said, 'The last three-eighths, he was just dragging me.' I think we're all set. I know how he worked before the Derby, and I didn't want him going that fast [58 seconds for 5 furlongs] heading into the Belmont.
"I don't see any signs of him tailing off. If anything, I think he may be going forward."
If so, that's even more bad news for whichever overmatched opponents show up to take on Smarty in "The Test of the Champion." On form, you can't make a logical case for anyone to defeat him. The Belmont appears to be one of those rare races where searching for value will be foolish. Unless Smarty gets sick, gets hurt or refuses to relax for Elliott, the 26-year Triple Crown drought will be history.
Smarty Jones has tractable speed, quick acceleration and stamina, the three most valuable traits in a racehorse. "He has plenty of natural speed and he's learned to control it, so that will help get the mile and a half," Elliott said. "When he pulled up after the Preakness, it didn't seem like he was getting tired."
Servis joked that after dominating the Preakness by 11½ lengths and having no one near him in the stretch, maybe Smarty thought it was a workout.
Trying to win a 1½-mile Grade I stakes at huge Belmont Park is not new territory for Servis, who trained Jostle, the 2000 winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks, the 3-year-old fillies' equivalent of the Belmont. The best horse can beat itself by being too eager early in such a grueling marathon, but Servis doesn't think that will happen next weekend.
"He was so high-strung early on that there was a concern about whether we could get him to settle," the 45-year-old trainer said. "I see a very big change in him in his maturity level. He used to be a lot more wound-up. Now he's laid-back and takes everything in stride. Now the pony gets more worked up over some things than he does."
Servis also said he's not worried about handling the Twilight Zone distance of 1½ miles, one lap around North America's most spacious track. On the biggest stage possible, he expects Smarty to produce another brilliant performance.
"This horse never gets tired," he said. "I think he'll actually like a mile and a half."