BENSALEM, Pa. - Smarty Jones has returned to Philadelphia Park to a hero's welcome, with his next mission clearly defined: the Preakness in nine days at Pimlico.
With news helicopters flying overhead and a police escort for his oversized van, the Kentucky Derby winner arrived late Tuesday at his home track north of Philadelphia, and yesterday he returned to the track for the first time since his smashing victory in Kentucky.
As hundreds of media members and track workers lined the outside rail, Smarty Jones walked a half mile and jogged a half mile for the start of what will be a crucial week and a half of Preakness preparation. John Servis, his trainer, said he plans to van undefeated Smarty Jones to Pimlico next Wednesday or Thursday, two or three days before the race - as long as the colt trains sharply.
"If there's any doubt, he won't be there," Servis said. "It's not that important to jeopardize my horse for the Triple Crown."
Servis said Smarty Jones has eaten well and shown no signs of fatigue or regression. The colt will begin galloping, a better indicator of his condition, possibly today, Servis said.
"I really liked what I saw this morning," Servis said. "He was nice and calm. He got a little on the muscle coming off the track. That was good."
The scene was surreal as Smarty Jones took to the track at 8:30 a.m. Except for the colt and his pony, the track was deserted. Normally, it would be a bustle of activity, with horses coming and going at varying speeds from different directions.
Philadelphia Park management offered to close the track at 8:30 each morning so Smarty Jones could train by himself. Servis accepted. Sal Sinatra, the track's director of racing, said Servis had a good 2-year-old filly last year who got kicked training in a crowd.
"We're not going to let that happen again," Sinatra said.
Track workers had mounted a large sign on Servis' barn that read:
JOHN SERVIS -- SOMEDAY FARM
The sign's colors were blue and white, the colors of Someday Farm, the racing operation of Patricia and Roy Chapman, owners of Smarty Jones. A planter with purple petunias outside the barn had been painted blue with white lettering: HOME OF SMARTY JONES. A rolling sign at the track entrance repeated: WAY TO GO SMARTY JONES!
In addition, track officials have invited the public to watch Smarty Jones gallop at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Admission will be free, and doors will open at 8 a.m.
When Servis and his wife, Sherry, returned to their Bensalem, Pa., home Tuesday after bedding down Smarty Jones in Barn 11, they found their yard and neighborhood adorned with blue and white balloons and blue and white signs congratulating and welcoming home the Kentucky Derby victors.
"It's a little overwhelming," Servis said. "I guess `naive' is the word. I didn't have any idea it's as big as it is. But it's a great story for the industry. ... It's great for Philadelphia."
A steady stream of horsemen stopped by Servis' barn to congratulate him. On Tuesday, local jockeys embraced one of their own, Stewart Elliott, who rode Smarty Jones in the Derby. Servis and Elliott were first-timers at the Derby, but they're regulars at Philadelphia Park.
"You know the old cliche in sports about it not sinking in yet?" said Keith Jones, track announcer. "Well, the more it sinks in, the more unbelievable it is. They won the Kentucky Derby."
NOTE: Kristin Mulhall and Steve Taub, trainer and owner, respectively, of Imperialism, third in the Derby, have opened the door to his running in the Preakness. They've reserved a plane Tuesday to fly him from Los Angeles to Baltimore "just in case," Taub said.
129th Preakness Stakes
What: Second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown
Where, when: Pimlico Race Course, May 15, post time 6:04 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4. Coverage begins at 5 p.m.
Horse Trainer Last race
Smarty Jones John Servis 1st, Kentucky Derby
Lion Heart Patrick Biancone 2nd, Kentucky Derby
The Cliff's Edge Nick Zito 5th, Kentucky Derby
Borrego Beau Greely 10th, Kentucky Derby
Eddington Mark Hennig 3rd, Wood Memorial Stakes
Rock Hard Ten Jason Orman 3rd, Santa Anita Derby
Water Cannon Linda Albert 1st, Federico Tesio Stakes
Imperialism Kristin Mulhall 3rd, Kentucky Derby
Read the Footnotes Rick Violette 7th, Kentucky Derby
Tapit Michael Dickinson 9th, Kentucky Derby
Friends Lake John Kimmel 15th, Kentucky Derby
Bornwithit Bob Baffert 1st, allowance
Preachinatthebar Bob Baffert 7th, Blue Grass Stakes
Royal Assault Nick Zito 5th, Wood Memorial Stakes
Sinister G John Toscano Jr. 10th, Wood Memorial Stakes
Sir Shackleton Nick Zito 1st, Derby Trial
Swingforthefences Rick Violette 4th, Wood Memorial Stakes
What: Smarty Jones' public training session
When: Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Philadelphia Park, Bensalem, Pa.
Admission: Free, gates open at 8 a.m. Coffee and doughnuts will be served.
Directions: I-95 north past Philadelphia to Route 132 West (Street Road). Go about three miles, track is on right. Driving time from Baltimore is about two hours.