05/12/2004 11:00PM

Philly flash hits Baltimore


BALTIMORE - The colors his jockey wears are blue and white, but the song should be sung by Pink. It's time to get this Smarty Party started.

Smarty Jones mania is rampant. The undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby goes for the second leg of the Triple Crown in Saturday's 129th at Pimlico Race Course, and his soaring popularity has placed demand for tickets at an all-time high. Track officials are predicting a crowd that will eclipse the record of 104,454 set in 2001. Mike Gathagan, Pimlico's director of broadcasting and communications, said he has issued 1,671 press credentials for the race, a Preakness record.

Much of the fever has spread south from Philadelphia, where Smarty Jones is based at Philadelphia Park. Smarty Jones is getting equal billing with the National Hockey League's Flyers in local newspapers, and Smarty Jones discussions have become a staple of sports-talk radio. Judging by the calls that have come in to Pimlico in recent days, thousands of fans are expected to make the three-hour drive from Philadelphia to support their local flyer.

"It's been overwhelming," John Servis, the trainer who has skillfully managed Smarty Jones to seven victories in seven starts, said Thursday morning at Pimlico. "The support from fans, family, friends. When my wife and I got home from Kentucky, the mail boxes in the neighborhood had blue and white balloons. It means a lot."

The feel-good story of the year, though, clashes with cold, hard handicapping come Saturday afternoon. Smarty Jones is unquestionably the horse to beat in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, but his popularity figures to make his odds quite short - he is 7-5 on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. So, bettors will be faced with an uncomfortable choice - bet the best horse, at an unattractive price, or take a shot with one of the many rivals lined up to face Smarty Jones who figure to be an overlay.

Ten horses were entered against Smarty Jones, but the field could be reduced by one. The Cliff's Edge, the winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, has been suffering from a sore right front foot, and was to be scratched on Friday if his condition had not improved by then. On Thursday morning, The Cliff's Edge never left Pimlico's stakes barn. He was walked under tack, then was hand-walked, and appeared noticeably lame while being hand-walked.

His trainer, Nick Zito, was hoping the abscess would pop, which should subsequently bring relief. But time was running out. If The Cliff's Edge is scratched, he will be pointed for the June 5 Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Smarty Jones is seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The 26-year drought is the longest since the Triple Crown was first captured by Sir Barton in 1919. If Smarty Jones can win all three races, he will be the first to earn a $5 million bonus from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor.

Smarty Jones already has earned another $5 million bonus, from Oaklawn Park for sweeping that track's Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, in addition to the Kentucky Derby. If Smarty Jones adds the Preakness and Belmont to his win streak, he will become racing's all-time money winner in just nine races.

The Preakness itself carries a purse of $1 million. It is the 12th race on a marathon 13-race card that is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Post time for the Preakness is 6:15 p.m. It will be televised live by NBC in a 90-minute telecast that begins at 5 p.m. The Preakness is the second half of a daily double that begins with Friday's Pimlico Special, and it is the final leg of a pick four, encompassing races 9 through 12 on Saturday, that has a guaranteed pool of $750,000.

A hot, steamy afternoon is in the offing. The National Weather Service is predicting a high temperature of 86 degrees, with the possibility of thunderstorms late in the day.

Of Smarty Jones's 10 rivals, five chased him in the Derby, and five are newcomers to the Triple Crown. They will have to beat an unbeaten favorite whose tactical speed should allow jockey Stewart Elliott - wearing the colors of owners Roy and Pat Chapman - to work out another good trip.

Lion Heart, who was second in the Derby after setting the early pace, figures to use similar front-running tactics in the Preakness. His trainer, Patrick Biancone, selected the rail at Wednesday's post-position draw, which seemingly gives Lion Heart one option: Go for it.

Biancone played it coy Thursday, though. "I don't think I should give away the tactics I am going to use. I will keep them to myself," he said. "It's better to tell you that than to give you B.S."

Imperialism, a late-running third in the Derby, will attempt to make Kristin Mulhall the first female trainer to win the Preakness. Mulhall, 21, could also become the youngest trainer to win the Preakness. Although Pimlico's media guide has no such records, historian Bill Mooney of Lexington, Ky., said no trainer younger than Mulhall has won the Preakness since 1906, the furthest back records reflecting such a statistic are complete.

The Derby also-rans are The Cliff's Edge, who was fifth; Borrego, who was 10th; and Song of the Sword, who was 11th.

Of the five newcomers, two - Eddington and Rock Hard Ten - entered the Derby, but were kept out of the field because insufficient earnings in graded stakes races did not place them in the top 20. Physically, they are the two biggest colts in the race.

Eddington was third most recently in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. "He was ready to run two weeks ago. We've just been trying to keep him on an even keel," said his trainer, Mark Hennig.

Rock Hard Ten finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, but was disqualified to third for interfering with Imperialism. Rock Hard Ten has made just three starts. No horse, according to historian Mooney, has won the Preakness with three starts or fewer.

Sir Shackleton, the Derby Trial winner, could be Zito's lone representative should The Cliff's Edge scratch. He figures to be stalking Lion Heart, along with Smarty Jones and Rock Hard Ten.

Water Cannon, who has won five straight races since adding blinkers, is the lone Maryland-based runner in this year's Preakness.

Longshot Little Matth Man was seventh in the Wood Memorial in his last start. He hails from Philadelphia Park, which is about all he has in common with his city's favorite son, Smarty Jones.