06/02/2004 12:00AM

New York, say hi to Smarty Jones

After galloping in Philadelphia early Wednesday, unbeaten Smarty Jones gets escort to Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - With lights from police cars flashing at the fore and aft of the caravan, Smarty Jones arrived at Belmont Park at high noon on Wednesday, and on Saturday afternoon he will have an old-fashioned shootout against eight rivals in the 136th Belmont Stakes.

A victory in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, combined with earlier victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, would make Smarty Jones the 12th Triple Crown winner. Befitting a spring that has gone to order for the undefeated colt, Smarty Jones got an ideal post position at Wednesday's draw, and had a smooth, though high-profile, trip from Philadelphia Park.

Smarty Jones landed the outside post in the field of nine, which should again allow jockey Stewart Elliott the option of either going to the lead, or sitting off any rival who desires the front end. In both the Derby and Preakness, Smarty Jones sat behind Lion Heart before pouncing.

Lion Heart, like 18 of the 22 individual horses who have faced Smarty Jones in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, has already waved the white flag. Two Belmont runners - Birdstone and Master David - bypassed the Preakness after running in the Derby. Two more - Eddington and Rock Hard Ten - missed the Derby and then chased Smarty Jones in the Preakness. And four others - Caiman, Purge, Royal Assault, and Tap Dancer - are making their first appearance in a Triple Crown race. Smarty Jones is the only horse in this year's Belmont who will have competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

The post draw on Wednesday was a traditional one, in which a blind draw determines posts. After seven posts had been determined, only numbers 1 and 9 remained, and Smarty Jones's entry card had yet to be drawn. John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, was relieved when his colt got the outside post, not the inside.

"When it got down to the last two numbers, I was much happier with nine than one," Servis said. "The game plan we've had going all along with Stewie is to watch what's going on inside of him and sit out there, get comfortable and decide where he wants to be."

Smarty Jones, who has won all eight of his races, was installed as the heavy 2-5 favorite on the morning line set by Don LaPlace of Belmont Park. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, also has Smarty Jones at 2-5. If Smarty Jones stays at that price, he will be the shortest-priced favorite in the Belmont since Spectacular Bid (.30-1) in 1979.

LaPlace made Purge the second choice at 5-1, with Rock Hard Ten at 8-1 and Eddington at 10-1. Watchmaker has Rock Hard Ten the second choice at 5-1, with Eddington at 8-1 and Purge at 10-1.

Belmont Park officials are predicting a record crowd for this year's Belmont, eclipsing the 103,222 who came out in 2002. The National Weather Service is forecasting a gorgeous day for Saturday, with mostly sunny skies and a high temperature around 70 degrees.

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at noon Eastern time. Post time for the Belmont is 6:38 p.m. It will be televised live by NBC Sports, beginning at 5:30.

Wednesday marked the first time Smarty Jones had ever been to Belmont Park. He has been at Philadelphia Park, where Servis is based. No horse has ever won the final leg of the Triple Crown without previously racing at Belmont Park.

Smarty Jones's day on Wednesday began at 5:35 a.m. at Philadelphia Park, where he galloped nearly 1 3/4 miles with exercise rider Pete Van Trump aboard. As has been the case on most mornings since the Preakness, Smarty Jones was accompanied by Servis and stable pony Butterscotch. Smarty Jones became more aggressive as the gallop progressed, much as he behaved on Monday and Tuesday.

Four hours later, Smarty Jones was loaded on a van for his two-hour trip to Belmont Park. He was escorted by police from the three states through which he traveled - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and then New York.

"It gave me goose bumps, to be honest with you," said Bill Foster, the stable foreman, who rode in the cab of the horse van. "To see people lined up on the side of the road hollering. I'm 64, and I've never seen anything like it. You would have thought he was the president."

A billboard along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Philadelphia Park read, "Look out New York. Smarty's coming." When he arrived at Belmont Park, Smarty Jones was greeted by a sign hung from Barn 5 that read, "Good Luck Smarty Jones."

The sign at Belmont Park was paid for by Visa, which sponsors the Triple Crown and offers a $5 million bonus to any horse who can sweep the Triple Crown. Combined with the $600,000 first-prize money for the Belmont, Smarty Jones could earn $5.6 million on Saturday, which would bring his lifetime total to $13,413,155, a North American record.

Smarty Jones practically leaped from the van when he was led down the ramp. He was taken to Stall 10 in Barn 5, three stalls away from the Stall 7 that was occupied by Secretariat in 1973. Minutes later, Butterscotch was led from the van, too.

Smarty Jones's chestnut coat was shining. It was a mild day, but after a long ride in a van, Smarty Jones had a right to look a bit dull. But he didn't even need to get a bath before being placed in his stall.

"He never turned a hair on the van," Foster said.

Smarty Jones was scheduled to gallop with the pony on Thursday and Friday morning, and Friday's itinerary also includes a schooling session at the starting gate. Then on Saturday, Smarty Jones attempts to run into the history books.

"I just hope he runs his race," Foster said. "He won the Kentucky Derby. That was the goal. He's a special animal, with a lot of heart. This has been the ride of a lifetime."