04/16/2004 12:00AM

For Lion Heart and Smarty, Lasix question looms

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Smarty Jones (above) will run on Lasix for the first time in the Kentucky Derby on May 1, a decision made by his trainer John Servis because, he said, "Why not cut out a possible excuse?"

In an era when the use of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, or Salix, has become routine, both Lion Heart and Smarty Jones have come through their preps for the Kentucky Derby without ever racing on that medication. Only one, however, will remain Lasix-free for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

John Servis, who trains Smarty Jones, on Friday said the Arkansas Derby winner would go on Lasix for the first time in the Derby. But Patrick Biancone, who trains Lion Heart, said the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up would continue to race without Lasix.

The decisions by both trainers are understandable, yet will be subject to second-guessing, since every move is scrutinized leading up to the Derby.

In the case of Smarty Jones, Servis said he wants to leave no stone unturned in the biggest race of his colt's life. Yet purists might wonder why a horse who never has needed Lasix suddenly has to go on it for the Derby.

In the case of Lion Heart, purists might laud Biancone's stance, but others may wonder why he is not taking every edge possible for the Derby. Every other horse in the Derby is expected to race with Lasix.

"He's never bled. He's never needed it," Biancone said Friday from Kentucky. "I'm happy with my horse. What you don't need, you don't need. If you only take aspirin for a headache, you don't wake up and say, 'I think I will take an aspirin, even though I have no pain.' I know I'm crazy, but I'm a bit logical too. As long as he doesn't bleed, he doesn't need it."

Lion Heart will be an exception to the rule in the Derby. In the last five Derbies, all 89 runners have raced on Lasix. The last time a horse did not use Lasix in the Derby was in 1998, when both Chilito and Parade Ground raced without Lasix. The last horse to win the Derby without Lasix was Grindstone in 1996

Servis said Smarty Jones has never bled in a race, but Servis said he has trained Smarty Jones with Lasix on occasion. Kentucky's medication rules allow Servis to make the change for race day. This is not uncommon. When the Breeders' Cup is held in Kentucky, nearly all European horses who were Lasix-free overseas go on Lasix for the first time.

Asked if he was putting Smarty Jones on Lasix as a precautionary measure, or because nearly everyone else will be on Lasix, Servis said, "It's a combination of the two."

"Number one, it's precautionary," Servis said. "And the fact is, it's the Derby. Instead of taking any chances, why not cut out a possible excuse?"

Servis said most of his runners usually race on Lasix. "He has been an exception to the rule, but I think that's because he's an exceptional individual," Servis said.

Both Lion Heart and Smarty Jones are currently training at Keeneland. Lion Heart will have all his serious Derby training at Keeneland. "He will not work at Churchill Downs," Biancone said. "He will come to Churchill Downs when he's ready."

Smarty Jones went back to the track for regular galloping on Thursday. Servis said Smarty Jones will be sent by van to Churchill Downs next Friday, will have his lone work there the following morning, and will remain at Churchill Downs until the Derby one week later.

In other Derby developments Friday:

* Faced with the decision to ride Master David or Minister Eric, jockey Alex Solis has chosen to go with Master David, the runner-up in last week's Wood Memorial. Both are trained by Hall of Famers for whom Solis rides regularly, Bobby Frankel (Master David) and Richard Mandella (Minister Eric).

"It was a hard decision," said Scotty McClellan, the jockey agent for Solis. "It's hard when you're dealing with some of your best customers. We've done well with both horses. Master David is coming out of the stronger races."

* Mandella said he had yet to decide on a replacement rider for Minister Eric, though it is believed Pat Day is among the leading candidates. Minister Eric and Action This Day both were sent by van to Churchill Downs on Friday.

* Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed that Jose Santos, who won last year's Derby on Funny Cide, will stick with Limehouse, who was third in last week's Blue Grass.

* Trainer Nick Zito was thrilled with the way Birdstone came out of his workout on Thursday at Churchill Downs. "He really looks great," said Zito, who scratched Birdstone from the Blue Grass because of a high white blood cell count. "So far, so good. He was one of the better 2-year-olds of last year, which gives us a lot of hope. I'd like to see him in the gate."

Birdstone was given an official time of 1:14.80 for the six-furlong work. Zito said Birdstone will work again on Friday or Saturday.