05/05/2004 12:00AM

A city embraces its new prince


BENSALEM, Pa. - Jaime Dominguez stroked fresh blue paint diagonally down a piece of trim on the door of stall 37 in barn 11. Five men on the Philadelphia Park maintenance crew pulled dead shrubs out of the "flower" bed at the end of the barn. New sheets of plywood were unloaded into the shedrow. Street sweepers had already gone up and down the barn's apron once and were on a steady schedule.

"Do you have any gasoline?" Dominguez asked Maureen Donnelly, the assistant trainer for John Servis.

"Gasoline?" Donnelly said.

Dominguez pointed to a spot where his brush had slopped over and left an unwanted paint spot on the weathered door. He's upset by the flaw in his work.

Donnelly asked around for turpentine and settled on rubbing alcohol.

Dominguez went to work with a wad of cotton, removing the paint spot and making Smarty Jones's door worthy of a Kentucky Derby winner.

This has never happened at Philadelphia Park.

While Dominguez painted master strokes on Monday morning, Ernesto Rojas was shaking up a fifth bale of straw in Smarty Jones's stall. He made pillows of straw up the walls and patted each flake into place. Rojas also had the new straw ready in the adjoining stall, but there was a difference.

"Five, four," Rojas said as he pointed to Smarty Jones's stall and then to the neighboring stall.

"Big horse," Rojas said, explaining the difference in bedding.

And he didn't mean size.

Donnelly couldn't decide if she should laugh, help, or applaud. Philadelphia Park looked like a new reality show - Win the Kentucky Derby and Get a New Barn in 48 Hours. Not only had Smarty Jones taken home the richest payday in Thoroughbred racing history, but now he was helping to clean up the backside and raise the morale of a scrap-out-a-living racetrack.

"I haven't seen this many trucks at this barn in the whole 10 years I been here," Donnelly said. "I wish they would do the whole track. There's no telling what will happen if we win the Preakness. They might fix the windows."

Without Smarty Jones or trainer John Servis on the grounds, jockey Stewart Elliott was the star on an otherwise bleak Monday morning. Elliott traveled back to his home track Sunday to be back on the job the next day. Smarty Jones and Servis did not arrive until Tuesday evening.

When Elliott showed up in the jocks' room Monday morning, valets and jockeys congratulated him. They shook his hand, admired his Kentucky Derby jacket, and one enterprising valet asked for the winning breeches to auction on eBay.

A media horde, including reporters from The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and local television stations, stood at the bottom of the steps to the jockeys' room like Elvis fans.

"I'm going to the box," Elliott said as he headed to the sauna.

"What, did you eat too much dinner after the Derby?" asked his valet, Vladimir Zivkovic.

"Oh, my weight's good," Elliott said. "I'm just going to hide."

After his respite, Elliott held a press conference at the foot of the jockeys' room stairs. He was applauded when it was over. He was applauded again as he went through a receiving line of jockeys before the first race, a $4,000 claimer. He rode The Fat Man for Ned Allard and finished fourth. After the race, Elliott became the only jockey in history to get applauded after losing on a 9-5 favorite.

This Derby thing is really something.

"It was pretty big," Elliott said. "As far as how I feel, well, I just accomplished something unbelievable. I won the Kentucky Derby. No matter what happens, that's something nobody can take away. As far as what happens from here, I'll take it day by day and see what happens."

The place is full of $2 bettors and diehard racing - or at least gambling - fans who are taking this victory much quicker than day by day. This is Philadelphia's bandwagon on which the rest of the world is now riding.

Last winter, the Eagles flopped again on the verge of the Super Bowl. The St. Joseph's basketball team energized the city, but the dream ultimately died. The 76ers are in disarray. The Phillies, the losingest team in baseball history, are struggling to reach .500. The Flyers are in the playoffs, but it has been a long time since Bernie Parent and the Broad Street Bullies.

Smarty Jones is now Philly's champ and has the cover of the Philadelphia Daily News to prove it.

"It gives everybody hope," Elliott said. "Good horses can come up from anywhere. The trainers, the jockeys, it gives all the little guys some hope."

Even workers on the grandstand deli line - Donna and Maryellen - couldn't help but dream.

"Did you get a Smarty Jones T-shirt?" Donna asked as she handed off a piece of pizza. "The guys in the parking lot were selling the ones off their backs for $30 after the race."

"This Smarty Jones," Maryellen said, "he's going to put Philadelphia Park on the map."