05/15/2004 12:00AM

Even his opponents were impressed


BALTIMORE - Now he heads to New York as only the third undefeated horse to enter the Belmont Stakes with a chance for the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones will try to avoid the bitter defeat that met Majestic Prince in 1969 and attempt to join Seattle Slew, the lone unbeaten Triple Crown winner, in the pantheon of great racehorses.

"This is a great horse," said trainer John Servis after Smarty Jones's sensational triumph Saturday in the 129th Preakness. "I am so overwhelmed."

As if he weren't already there. Becoming the first undefeated Kentucky Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977, Smarty Jones ran himself into elite company by winning the Preakness by a record margin. The connections of his beaten rivals were extremely impressed Saturday, and if Smarty Jones were to somehow lose the June 5 Belmont, those people would be among the most surprised.

"You might have seen some history in the making right there," said Gary Stevens, who had one of the best views of the Smarty Jones phenomenon when he finished second aboard runner-up Rock Hard Ten. "I had another gear, but, unfortunately, when I hit the other gear, Smarty Jones had about four more left."

Mike Smith, who rode fourth-place finisher Lion Heart, was asked if Smarty Jones is beatable. "Not right now," said Smith.

Bill Nader, senior vice president for the New York Racing Association, said the smashing victory by Smarty Jones portends a record afternoon at Belmont. The Belmont record attendance of 103,222 was set two years ago, when War Emblem failed in his attempt to sweep the Triple Crown. Last year, 101,864 watched at Belmont in rainy conditions when Funny Cide was foiled in his Triple Crown attempt.

"It should be an incredible box office attraction for us," said Nader, who accepted several Belmont media credential requests in the immediate aftermath of the Preakness. "It might be the most-watched event in racing history."

Smarty Jones became the 29th horse to have won the Derby and Preakness; only 11 have completed the sweep, with Affirmed, in 1978, being the latest.

Besides several of the horses Smarty Jones defeated Saturday who might try him again in the Belmont, the following 3-year-olds might also run: Friends Lake, Master David, Read the Footnotes, Relaxed Gesture, Royal Assault, Sinister G, and Tapit.