06/03/2004 12:00AM

Crowning Moments: Unbeaten Smarty Jones wins derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1 - Cue the theme from "Rocky."

A new Philadelphia story unfolded Saturday at Churchill Downs. Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred who began his career at Philadelphia Park, is trained and ridden by horsemen based there, and is owned by a couple from nearby Bucks County, scored the richest prize in racing history when he captured the 130th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Smarty Jones completed a dream story that ranks among the best of Derby lore. He nearly killed himself last summer in a starting gate mishap. His pedigree was questioned over his ability to handle a classic distance. His trainer had never run a horse in the Derby, and inherited the horse after the shooting death of his owner's previous trainer. His jockey had never ridden in the Derby, either. Smarty Jones might have tried to break his own face at age 2, but on Saturday he broke all the rules.

The little colt who could collared pacesetter Lion Heart at midstretch and pulled away to victory on a wet, rain-soaked afternoon. He ran his record to a perfect 7 for 7 and became the first horse to emerge from the Derby unbeaten since Seattle Slew in 1977. That colt went on to sweep the Triple Crown.

Smarty Jones broke the bank. In addition to the $854,800 first prize from an overall purse of $1,154,800, Smarty Jones earned a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for sweeping that track's Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby in addition to the Kentucky Derby.

That largesse goes to owners Roy and Pat Chapman, who race as Someday Farm and bred Smarty Jones in Pennsylvania. Smarty Jones is by Elusive Quality and is out of the Smile mare I'll Get Along.

Smarty Jones is trained by John Servis, who hooked up with the Chapmans after trainer Bob Camac was murdered in 2002. The colt was ridden by Stewart Elliott, whom Servis and the Chapmans stuck with despite pressure to switch to a better-known rider.

Another $5 million payday could await Smarty Jones in five weeks. If Smarty Jones adds the May 15 Preakness Stakes and June 5 Belmont Stakes to his Derby victory, he will become the sport's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and earn a $5 million bonus from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor.

A crowd of 140,054, and thousands more at offtrack wagering shops across the country, sent Smarty Jones off as the 4-1 favorite. He paid $10.20. The Oaks-Derby double, which began with favored Ashado in Friday's Kentucky Oaks, returned $60.20, nearly twice the parlay.

Eighteen ran in the Derby after the scratches on Friday of St Averil and Wimbledon. They competed over a track that was sloppy following storms most of the afternoon. The track was sloppy when the day began, turned to fast midway through the day, but became a sea of mud after a torrential downpour a little less than two hours before Derby post time.

Smarty Jones was given a perfect ride by Elliott. Lion Heart, as expected, broke sharply from the gate and took the lead while setting fractions of 22.99 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.73 for a half-mile. Smarty Jones was in a pack of horses just behind Lion Heart as the field came under the wire for the first time, but Elliott held his position by making his colt bull his way between Read the Footnotes and Pollard's Vision.

As the field advanced down the backstretch, Lion Heart continued to lead, but Smarty Jones emerged from the pack and became the primary challenger. After six furlongs in 1:11.80, Lion Heart and Smarty Jones began to distance themselves from their 16 rivals. By the time the field reached the top of the stretch, after a mile in 1:37.35, it was a two-horse race.

Smarty Jones, with Elliott switching his whip from his right hand to his left, and back to his right, reached Lion Heart a furlong out, then drew away in the final yards to win by 2 3/4 lengths. He completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.06.

Lion Heart held second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of late-running Imperialism, who closed furiously over a track that seemed to favor front-runners.

Limehouse was fourth and was followed, in order, by The Cliff's Edge, Action This Day, Read the Footnotes, Birdstone, Tapit, Borrego, Song of the Sword, Master David, Pro Prado, Castledale, Friends Lake, Minister Eric, Pollard's Vision, and Quintons Gold Rush, who was beaten so badly he was eased by jockey Corey Nakatani.