05/22/2004 12:00AM

Much fuss for a glimpse of Smarty

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A huge crowd lined the stretch at Philadelphia Park on Saturday morning to watch, and photograph, Smarty Jones during his morning gallop.

BENSALEM, Pa. - Rarely have so many turned out to watch so few do so little - and appreciated it so much.

For the second and last time between Triple Crown races, thousands of Smarty Jones enthusiasts converged Saturday on Philadelphia Park to watch the undefeated colt go through a mundane training regimen - but the scene the fans created was anything but ordinary.

Just a few minutes before 8 a.m. Eastern, fans raced through the front doors of the track clubhouse, hell-bent on securing prime viewing spots for when Smarty Jones would proceed through a 1 1/2-mile gallop. Some 45 minutes later, after the track had been manicured for the colt's solitary journey, Smarty Jones, with exercise rider Pete Van Trump aboard, went through his training without the slightest of hitches.

Trainer John Servis, who observed the gallop from aboard his pony while situated about 70 yards from the finish line, later said at a press conference in the Philly Park paddock: "As you can see, Smarty's really doing great."

What gave the morning a highly unusual flair was the overwhelming support shown by a crowd that track officials estimated at 8,500. As backup race-caller Pat Cummings solemnly asked the crowd to "please maintain some order in your cheering" to avoid spooking Smarty Jones "in his quest for racing immortality," the championship-starved people of Philadelphia were only too happy to comply. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be that they felt privileged to catch a mere glimpse of a horse who on June 5 will be a huge favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and complete the first sweep of the Triple Crown in 26 years.

This was the second time Philly Park had invited the public to watch Smarty Jones train; the first was May 8, exactly halfway between the colt's riveting triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Plied with free coffee and doughnuts, the Saturday crowd lined the rail for the entire length of the stretch and also filled in sizable portions of the second-floor grandstand and track apron. They waited in hushed tones as Smarty Jones walked onto the track at the quarter-mile chute, then clapped politely - with an occasional, gleeful "wooo" thrown in - as the colt leisurely galloped past once, then twice, finally coming to a stop after Servis collared him just past the wire.

Then, to a final round of applause, Smarty Jones, with his head drooping down near his knees, casually walked all the way up the stretch and out the chute to another afternoon of rest and relaxation in Barn 11 on the Philly Park backside. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.

"Today he was awesome," said Servis. "He relaxed so good. I was a little concerned about all the people, but he was so professional. Every day he's improving more and more."

The sights and sounds that Smarty-mania produced Saturday were extraordinary. With kids perched atop their shoulders, moms and dads, many clad in Smarty attire, feverishly clicked their cameras, trying to nab whatever bit of history that they could. As Smarty Jones finished walking back, track president Bob Green introduced three local dignitaries, all of whom gushed eloquently about the colt's many virtues. Media members interviewed fans who wouldn't be caught miles from Philly Park before the Smarty phenomenon came to be, asking them how far they had driven and where they were from.

More than an hour after the horse had gone home, lines at souvenir stands inside the track were still 15 deep. About 200 fans hung around the press conference and gave themselves a loud cheer when Cummings announced the crowd estimate. One woman even was seen taking photographs of a television replay of the Smarty Jones gallop.

This will be the last time for such a surreal scene, at least until after the Triple Crown is over. Servis said he hopes to give Smarty Jones his lone pre-Belmont workout Friday or Saturday, meaning another huge public gathering isn't feasible.

"It's a joy to me to see the people come out and flock around him the way they do," said Servis. "It's great for the whole industry."

Rock Hard Ten goes to school

The Preakness runner-up, Rock Hard Ten, began the process of getting acquainted with the Belmont Park gate crew Saturday morning, schooling for approximately 30 minutes. Rock Hard Ten acted up at the gate prior to the start of the Preakness.

After galloping 1 1/2 miles over Belmont's main track, Rock Hard Ten went to the training track where New York Racing Association starter Bob Duncan and his gate crew worked with the mammoth dark bay colt. Though Rock Hard Ten did kick and balk a few times, "by the time we were finished, he was walking into a closed stall standing very quietly and peacefully," Duncan said.

Duncan said that Rock Hard Ten did not go into the gate with a rider on his back, something he would do at a later session. Rock Hard Ten was scheduled to school in the gate again on Sunday and would probably visit a few more times leading up to the race.

"I think it went quite well," Duncan said. "He came up at a nice quiet moment, we took the rider off and took some time getting a relationship established with him, then put him in the gate. He was a little reluctant at first, he was trying to sidle and kick, but we worked on correcting him from doing that."

John Byrne, the assistant trainer and exercise rider of Rock Hard Ten, praised Duncan for his work with Rock Hard Ten.

"He's a natural horseman," said Byrne, the assistant for trainer Jason Orman. "He loaded him in frontward, loaded him in backward, he's getting the horse's confidence back. He's happy with the horse, he's going to see him a few more times."

Pat Valenzuela may ride Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont. Though Valenzuela is scheduled to begin a 30-day suspension on June 1, Valenzuela's attorney, Don Calabria, said it is possible Valenzuela could appeal that suspension in order to ride.

Tapit breezes at Tapeta

Tapit, the Wood Memorial winner, worked five furlongs in 1:07.40 at trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Northeast, Md. It was Tapit's first breeze since he finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Tapit worked over the all-surface dirt track, which has a gradual incline throughout.

"He just had one horse in front of him, they finished head and head," Dickinson said. "Just a routine five-furlong breeze, pretty uneventful."

Dickinson said that Tapit had lost a lot of weight in the Kentucky Derby, but "he has put his weight back on. He had to run hard because he didn't handle the track in the Derby. Every furlong was hard for him."

Dickinson said that Tapit would work again on Thursday and would probably not ship to Belmont until as late as possible.

Birdstone works at Saratoga

Birdstone, the eighth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, was credited with a five-furlong move Saturday morning in 1:02.61 over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track. Maxine Correa was up for the work, the fastest of nine at the distance. Assistant trainer Reynaldo Abreu supervised the move, which trainer Nick Zito said was actually six furlongs in 1:16.40.

"Maxine said he went good," said Zito, who was overseeing his Belmont Park string Saturday. "Reynaldo said he looked good."

Birdstone has not run since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 15 1/4 lengths by Smarty Jones.

* Belmont racing secretary Mike Lakow said any out-of-town horses running in the Belmont Stakes must be on the grounds by the night before the race. Horses stabled at Aqueduct or Saratoga must be at Belmont by 7:30 a.m. race day.

- additional reporting by Steve Anderson and David Grening