12/05/2003 12:00AM

Chapmans have big plans for 'Smarty'

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Roy and Pat Chapman don't want to fling around words like Kentucky Derby just yet. But there seems little doubt that the Chapmans, long-prominent Pennsylvania horsepeople, have a genuine Triple Crown hopeful.

The Chapmans own Smarty Jones, who delivered an awe-inspiring performance while winning the Pennsylvania Nursery on Nov. 22 by 15 lengths. Smarty Jones burst to an early lead in the $50,000 stakes for statebred 2-year-olds, and was never touched by any of his 10 rivals. With jockey Stewart Elliott sitting tight in the irons, Smarty Jones charged through the seven furlongs in splits of 21.88 seconds, 44.20, 1:08.67, and 1:21.88, which is just .28 of a second from the best three-year time at the distance at Philadelphia Park.

Trained by John Servis at Philadelphia Park, Smarty Jones was making his second start. He won his maiden in similar style, by 7 3/4 lengths, in a six-furlong maiden special weight at that track on Nov. 9.

"We still have to see if he can go a distance," said Roy Chapman, although obviously thrilled by the possibilities. Smarty Jones's next engagement is expected to be the Count Fleet Stakes on Jan. 3 at Aqueduct, with the Arkansas Derby as a long-range goal.

The colt already has already overcome adversity. He reared and fractured his skull while schooling in the starting gate at Philadelphia Park in July, and far exceeded veterinarians' expectations by making a full recovery.

Smarty Jones is the first homebred stakes winner for the Chapmans, who began breeding Thoroughbreds about 13 years ago, and in recent years have drastically cut back their stock. Although they once maintained a large racing stable of primarily claimers with trainer Mark Reid, the Chapmans' most celebrated equine performers - until now - have not gained their fame on the racetrack. The Chapmans won the 1989 Maryland Hunt Cup with Uncle Merlin, the first steeplechase horse they owned. Uncle Merlin also led the 1990 English Grand National for much of the race until his jockey fell off at one of the final jumps. And in 1992 their Eagle Lion, trained and ridden by Bruce Davidson, won the prestigious Olympic-style three-day event (cross country, dressage, show jumping) at Fair Hill.

Until three years ago, the Chapmans maintained a 100-acre farm in Chester County, Pa. They now divide their time between homes in New Hope, Pa., and Boca Grande, Fla., with Roy Chapman having retired from management of his automobile dealership, Chapman Auto Group, that has branches in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.

Smarty Jones, by Kentucky stallion Elusive Quality, was one of the last two horses born on the Chapmans' farm, and was a standout from the beginning, said Roy Chapman. He arrived on the birthday of Pat Chapman's late mother, which led to the story behind his name. "I couldn't name him Mildred," said Pat Chapman. "Then I remembered that my mother's grandparents used to call her 'Smarty Jones.' "

Sent to George Isaacs at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., for his early education, Smarty Jones made a big impression there. "George told me, 'You've got the one you've been waiting for,' " said Roy Chapman. The Chapmans have been receiving offers to buy the colt for nearly a year - sometimes for shocking figures. But they intend to keep racing him themselves.

Durability, as well as talent, should be on Smarty Jones's side. His dam, I'll Get Along, by Smile, was a mainstay of the Chapmans' racing stable for five years. Purchased by them for $40,000 at the 1993 Keeneland September yearling sale, I'll Get Along won the Alma North Handicap and William Parker Stakes and placed in seven other added-money races, earning $277,008. Smarty Jones is her second foal; the first, a 3-year-old Formal Gold filly named Be Happy My Love, is a modest winner.

The Chapmans sold I'll Get Along for $130,000 at the 2001 Keeneland November breeding sale. "Sometimes you have to sell the ones you don't want to sell," said Chapman.