05/31/2004 11:00PM

The Crown as family jewels?


ELMONT, N.Y. - John Servis wasn't so sure, but Jason Servis thought it made perfect sense, and Eddie Plesa figured it was only fair, the three of them being family and all.

The three training brothers - Plesa by marriage to Laurie Servis - each won a race on the afternoon of May 15. At around 3 o'clock, Plesa knocked off a $28,000 maiden race at Calder. A couple hours later, it was Jason's turn in a $44,000 allowance race at Belmont Park. Then, at 6:25 p.m., John Servis won the $1 million Preakness at Pimlico with you-know-who.

"Eddie said we should put it all in a pot and split three ways," Jason recalled. "We even put it to a vote. It was 2-1. John didn't stand a chance."

Whether or not the subject comes up again this Saturday remains to be seen. At this point, Eddie and Jason will settle for John winning the big one at Belmont Park, when Smarty Jones goes for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

But first, Jason will try to kick off the week at Belmont in high style by running the filly Chocolate Brown in the Fashion Stakes on Thursday. Plesa will do his part by staying home in south Florida so as not to ruffle the established karma, since he attended neither the Derby nor the Preakness.

"You know trainers," he said. "They don't like to see things change when everything is working okay."

"I know what he means," Jason said. "I'm just a teeny bit superstitious, and this is the big one. So I'm a little scared, because everybody wants to be the giant-killer."

Related or not, horse trainers speak the same language, share the same anxieties and dream the same dreams - standard-issue stuff that includes visions of Kentucky Derbies, Breeders' Cups, and even the Triple Crown.

So, when John was telling Jason and Eddie last summer about this colt who kept working three-quarters in 10 and change without even turning a hair, they signed on for the ride. They already knew how low the game could go. Now, because of that colt, they might find out what the view is like from the absolute top.

In the meantime, Plesa and Jason Servis have been entertained by the avalanche of interest in their brother.

"It's been pretty hectic," said Jason, who trains a 35-horse barn at Monmouth Park and keeps another eight at Belmont. "Seems like I'm getting a lot of calls from guys who want to know what John was like as a kid."

So, what was he like? Jason laughed.

"Did you have a brother?"

The caller confessed he did.

"Then you know."

Knock-down drag-outs, flailing little fists, nasty ambushes - they're all part of the competitive dynamic of brotherly blood played out since Cain and Abel.

"If you can believe it, we once got boxing gloves for Christmas," Jason said. "After a while, you get to that age where you truly love your brother, and you'd do anything for him."

The Servis and the Plesa clans were united 25 years ago this July when Eddie and Laurie were married. Laurie's little brothers - Jason and John - were 22 and 20 at the time, tiptoeing their way up the lower rungs of the racing game, while Plesa, at 30, was on his way to establishing himself among the most respected trainers on the south Florida circuit.

The families had crossed paths before. Patriarchs Joe Servis and Eddie Plesa Sr. were both jockeys, and they rode against each other in West Virginia. Before taking up a career as a trainer, the elder Plesa made a mark in the history books of the Northwest by winning six of seven races at Playfair, in Spokane, on Oct. 3, 1946.

Eddie Jr. learned the training ropes at his father's side, far from the bright lights of Belmont Park. One of their regular stops was Charles Town, better known these days as the childhood home of John Servis.

"I know things have changed, but back then, I always thought of Charles Town as quicksand," Plesa said. "Once you get in, it was hard to get out. Your dream during those days was to go to New York, or to run in the Kentucky Derby. And either of them happening was about the same odds - it wasn't going to happen."

But it did. Plesa broke the ice by taking the brilliant filly Three Ring to the 1999 Kentucky Derby. In 2003 his work with the old battler Best of the Best was rewarded in with a victory in the inaugural Sunshine Millions Classic. One week after this year's Preakness, Plesa unleashed a 2-year-old colt named B.B. Best to win by 15 lengths at Calder.

"He's shown me a lot at this stage, just like Smarty showed John," Plesa said.

First things first. There is a Belmont Stakes to win. Plesa can envision the headlines - "Smarty Jones Wins Triple Crown" - but he knows better than to take any horse race for granted.

"Last Dec. 29, the whole family was down here at our house celebrating Laurie's 50th birthday," Plesa said. "Since then, it has seemed like one long continuation of the same party. And no matter what happens on Saturday, we'll still have plenty to celebrate."