11/28/2007 12:00AM

Not the next Smarty Jones

EmailPHILADELPHIA - That really was a large tailgate in the Philadelphia Park parking lot last Saturday. Four hours before the Pennsylvania Nursery, the new key Triple Crown prep, that was smoke coming from the grill and alcohol sliding down throats as 60 friends of former Penn basketball player Vince Curran gathered in anticipation of the Nursery.

Curran, aka Vinman, was there as a part owner of his namesake, Double Down Vinman, the colt that would be bet down to 6-5 in the Nursery. Early in the week, he had sent out a mass e-mail to his friends, inviting them to the tailgate.

When Curran said it would be the biggest tailgate ever at the Pha, it was explained to him that it would also be the first. Vinman made his first Kentucky Derby last spring. He was hoping Double Down Vinman could take a step in that direction in the Nursery.

The Vinman entourage made its way inside in time for the race. They probably should have stayed in the parking lot.

Trainer Tony Dutrow was hoping rider Harry Vega could get DDV back off the pace and let him make a big turn run in the seven-furlong race. DDV would have none of it.

"Harry said the more he tried to take a hold of the horse, the more the horse took a hold of him,'' Dutrow said.

DDV was battling through fractions of 22.32 and 44.99 seconds against a no-hoper that eventually retreated to the back of the pack. DDV had the lead into the stretch, but the cavalry was on the way and DDV's stride was disappearing.

Four years ago, Smarty Jones won his maiden at the Pha with an 84 Beyer. DDV had won his maiden at the Pha with an 83 Beyer.

Smarty Jones went 21.08, 44.20, and 1:08.67 in the Nursery and kept on going, finishing out in 1:21.88, winning by 15 lengths and getting a 105 Beyer.

Like Smarty, DDV is a Pennsylvania-bred. Unlike Smarty, DDV did not keep going. He got passed by race winner Notgivinmyloveaway and then by maiden Sweet Sugar, eventually finishing third, beaten by eighth lengths.

Dreams of Smarty Jones II evaporated in the 15 seconds it took DDV to negotiate the final eighth of a mile.

"What are you going to do?'' Curran said. "I wanted him to run well and he didn't. If he ends up running in a bunch of Pa.-bred races and we get to watch him run at the Pha, that's fine too.''

The winner got an 81 Beyer, 2 points slower than DDV's maiden win.

Last year, Hard Spun was the 1-5 favorite in the Pennsylvania Nursery. He won easily, but got only an 82 Beyer. Hard Spun, however, was just getting started. He kept getting better all the way through the Breeders' Cup Classic with a career-best 112 Beyer.

When DDV won his maiden, he rated kindly and blew away the field on the turn, winning by 12 lengths. Superfecta, second that day, came back to dominate a Pa.-bred stakes. The colt that finished fifth behind DDV came back to blow away a field of maidens in fast time. DDV really looked legit.

In 4 career races, DDV has 2 wins, 2 thirds, and one really good performance. In the other three races, he dueled for the lead before tiring. He held on to win one of the races because the competition was so weak.

So they know how the colt runs best. The trick is to get DDV to do it.

"I don't know what I can do to get that horse off the muscle,'' Dutrow said. "I'm not blaming Harry Vega at all, not in the least. But it's possible maybe a different jockey would have better results with him. I'm hoping for that. We'd just like to see him give it up a little bit the first part and finish up.''

Curran, who graduated from Penn's prestigious Wharton School and has a built a small real estate empire, is a player. Loves the action at the track. Got into some breeding and racing partnerships, looking for even more action. Has bet on enough races to know nothing is certain, not even when your horse is 6-5 in a race that produced the 2004 Derby winner and the 2007 Derby runner-up.

Double Down Vinman will race on. The Vinman will be there. The tailgating entourage? To be determined.