05/30/2004 11:00PM

Global focus falls on Crown

Email
Horsephotos
Rock Hard Ten (front), John Byrne riding, works with Sarava Monday at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - A police escort involving officers from three states is expected to lead Smarty Jones the 115 miles from Philadelphia Park to Belmont Park on Wednesday. A similar escort may be needed leaving town for the horse who would deny Smarty Jones the Triple Crown in Saturday's 136th Belmont Stakes.

Smarty Jones, the undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, will seek to end the longest Triple Crown drought in racing history when he runs in the Belmont. He will try to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner, and first since Affirmed in 1978. Having won all eight of his starts, he will try to join Seattle Slew as the only horses to complete the Triple Crown undefeated. A victory by Smarty Jones in the Belmont would be worth $600,000 in purse money and an additional $5 million from Visa, the sponsor of the Triple Crown. The combined prize money would push Smarty Jones's career earnings past $13 million, a North American record.

Smarty Jones's popularity has reached global proportions, with reporters from South Africa among the 1,200 media credentials the New York Racing Association office has issued as of Monday. Smarty Jones has already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine.

Smarty Jones is expected to have seven challengers in the Belmont, run at 1 1/2 miles. Developments over the weekend changed the complexion of the field.

The Cliff's Edge and Tapit, the fifth- and ninth-place finishers from the Kentucky Derby, were withdrawn from consideration. Purge, the Peter Pan winner, was added to the prospective field on Monday after a satisfactory workout. Caiman, a multiple allowance winner at Hawthorne, was confirmed a starter on Sunday and was expected to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday. They join Rock Hard Ten, Eddington, Royal Assault, Birdstone, and Tap Dancer as confirmed runners. Master David, the 12th-place finisher in the Derby, is still under consideration, trainer Bobby Frankel said.

Rock Hard Ten, who finished a distant second behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness, and Purge, who was beaten 7 1/4 lengths by Smarty Jones in the Arkansas Derby, put in solid workouts at Belmont on Monday morning.

A week ago, Rock Hard Ten made headlines by his refusal to work. Monday, he couldn't have been more professional as he drilled a sharp five furlongs in 59.12 seconds in company with 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava. John Byrne, the exercise rider of Rock Hard Ten, said his arms "are a bit longer" after having to hold Rock Hard Ten through his work. Breaking off about two lengths behind Sarava, Rock Hard Ten caught up approaching the quarter pole, ran with Sarava while under stout restraint before pulling away nearing the finish line and to the 1 3/8-mile pole, where the work officially ended.

"He couldn't have done it any easier, and he doesn't seem very tired from it," trainer Jason Orman said. "He was just cruising. John said he never changed his hold the whole way. The last two days he's galloped as good as I've ever seen him gallop, and that was probably as good as I've ever seen him work."

When asked if he felt Smarty Jones was unbeatable, Orman said, "If we didn't think he was beatable we wouldn't be here."

Orman is hoping to have Pat Valenzuela on his horse. On Tuesday. Valenzuela was to attempt to get a stay in Los Angeles Superior Court of a one-month suspension handed him by the California Horse Racing Board.

Even after Purge romped to a 6 3/4-length victory over in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 22, trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Jack Wolf said they were more likely to run their horse in the Dwyer on July 12 than the Belmont. But trainers and owners often change their minds.

On Monday, after Purge displayed no rankness in rating off another horse in a five-furlong workout, Pletcher said Purge would most likely run. Purge, under jockey John Velazquez, worked five furlongs in 1:01.71, stalking stablemate Savoy Special until finishing on even terms at the wire.

"The things we were looking for in this particular work were to let him sit behind another horse, see how he reacted to it, and I think he did that very well," Pletcher said.

Purge finished second to Smarty Jones in the Rebel and was fifth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths by him in the Arkansas Derby. In both races, Purge set the pace and was stalked by Smarty Jones. Pletcher said he does not want to see Purge on the lead in the Belmont.

"From our standpoint, we've been in that scenario before twice where we were the stalkee and we would like to change that role," Pletcher said.

Also working Monday at Belmont Park was Royal Assault, the Sir Barton Stakes winner. He went in company with Gulch Approval, the two going head and head through five furlongs in 1:00.24. Timo, a graded stakes winner on turf, joined the workout late after starting five lengths behind the duo.

Trainer Nick Zito said Royal Assault is a lazy work horse by himself and needed the company to keep him interested. Zito's other Belmont runner, Birdstone, was scheduled to arrive from Saratoga on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Eddington worked five furlongs in 59.10 second, his second aggressive workout in one week. Master David worked six furlongs in 1:13.12, but trainer Bobby Frankel said he would wait until entry day before deciding whether to run.

Smarty Jones looking eager

At Philadelphia Park on Monday, Smarty Jones galloped with the eagerness and alertness he showed before his victories in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He galloped 1 5/8 miles with exercise rider Pete Van Trump while accompanied by stable pony Butterscotch, who was ridden by trainer John Servis.

Smarty Jones was outside of Butterscotch during the gallop, which took place at 5:40 a.m. Servis kept a tight hold on the shank, leaned back astride Butterscotch, and kept his right leg pointed outward, all in an attempt to keep Smarty Jones from doing too much. Van Trump also had a snug hold on the reins. Smarty Jones had his neck arched, obviously eager to do more.

While walking the wrong way through the stretch after the gallop, Servis turned to the only two reporters present and said, "It don't get any better than that."

Back at the barn, Servis needed a few minutes before he could properly grip a cup of coffee, because his arms were almost numb.

"It's like you feel after you lift weights," Servis said. "He was pulling me out of the saddle."

Smarty Jones worked seven furlongs on Friday. He walked at the barn on Saturday, then had a light one-mile jog on Sunday.

Servis said Smarty Jones would gallop without the pony on Tuesday, then would gallop with the pony on Wednesday. Smarty Jones is scheduled to be sent by van to Belmont Park late Wednesday morning, with a scheduled arrival time of early afternoon. Servis will leave after the gallop, but before the van ride, in order to attend the post-position draw at Belmont Park.

Servis was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday night's baseball game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and the Mets.

* The Belmont post-position draw will be held Wednesday morning in the Garden Terrace on the fourth floor of Belmont Park. The draw is held in the conventional style, not the two-tiered system done for both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The draw can be seen live on TVG and Fox Sports New York at 11 a.m. Eastern.

* The long-range forecast of partly sunny skies and a temperatures in the mid-70's should help Belmont Park set an attendance record.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman