Gem of 1st jewel, `Smarty' to face solid competition

Kentucky Derby winner could be challenged by Eddington, Lion Heart

Preakness Stakes

May 03, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As many as eight horses from the Kentucky Derby could reunite May 15 in Baltimore for the Preakness, but Smarty Jones will be the star.

The morning after his convincing victory Saturday in the Kentucky Derby, John Servis, his trainer, pronounced him bright-eyed and happy. Smarty Jones didn't seem overly stressed from his powerful effort, Servis said, and he was playing with his hayrack, banging it with his head.

"He's a hard, solid little horse," Servis said. "He's like granite."

Servis wasn't eager to discuss the Preakness, but he said he and Smarty Jones would be there as long as the horse remains robust. Smarty Jones will travel by plane tomorrow from Churchill Downs to Philadelphia Park, his home track but a place he hasn't seen for four months.

He began preparing in January for the Derby at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, competing in a series of races culminating with the Arkansas Derby. Smarty Jones entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated -- 6-for-6 -- but still faced skeptics who questioned his breeding for the Derby's 1 1/4 miles and the quality of his competition in Arkansas.

"I think he silenced all the second-guessers," said Mark Hennig, trainer of Eddington.

Still, Smarty Jones will face a stern challenge when he tries to win the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Eddington, who couldn't crack the Derby field because of a lack of graded-stakes earnings, will be among the foremost. Hennig said Jerry Bailey will ride Eddington at Pimlico Race Course.

The Derby horses most likely to face Smarty Jones in the Preakness are runner-up Lion Heart, fifth-place The Cliff's Edge and 10th-place Borrego. John Kimmel, trainer of 15th-place Friends Lake, said he was on the fence.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said he would decide this week about Limehouse, fourth in the Derby. The filly Ashado, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, is possible for the Preakness, but the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park is more likely, Pletcher said.

Less likely to compete in the Preakness, but still possible, are the Derby's seventh-place finisher, Read the Footnotes, and ninth-place finisher Tapit.

Michael Dickinson, who trains Tapit at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, said the Preakness and Belmont Stakes are under consideration, but the Belmont is more likely.

Dickinson said Tapit, the bettors' third choice among the 18 Derby starters, couldn't get untracked on the sloppy surface after an afternoon thunderstorm. Ramon Dominguez rode Tapit.

"He was never handling the muddy track," Dickinson said. "Ramon had to ask him for everything."

Rick Violette, trainer of Read the Footnotes, said the colt emerged from the race with mucus in his lungs. The Preakness is possible, though unlikely, he said. He might instead run Swingforthefences, fourth in the Wood Memorial Stakes, he said.

The most prominent challenger to Smarty Jones in the Preakness would be Lion Heart, the Derby runner-up by 2 3/4 lengths. Patrick Biancone, his trainer, said he plans to take on Smarty Jones again.

"I don't know if we can beat him," Biancone said. "But I'm paid to try to win. If we get to Pimlico, we're going to challenge a horse on top of the world. I think the public will enjoy seeing them fight again."

Trainer Nick Zito said he plans to run The Cliff's Edge, but not Birdstone, in the Preakness. Birdstone finished eighth in the Derby.

"The bettors don't like excuses," Zito said. "But sometimes you have legitimate excuses."

The Cliff's Edge lost both front shoes, and Birdstone lost one, he said. "It wasn't my blacksmith's best day."

Steve Taub, owner of Imperialism, who closed strongly for third in the Derby, said the colt likely would wait for the Belmont. Taub plans to run another horse in the Preakness: Cheiron, winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park.

Water Cannon, the Bowie gelding on a five-race winning streak, also will challenge Smarty Jones in the Preakness. Linda Albert, Water Cannon's trainer, said she was impressed with Smarty Jones' emphatic victory in the Derby.

"He's certainly a tough horse," Albert said. "But we figure somebody's going to have to take a shot at him. We'll be here waiting for him."

At a glance

What: 129th Preakness, second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: May 15, post time 6:04 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4. Coverage begins at 5 p.m.

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