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Philly's hometown hero
BENSALEM, Pa. - In a sports-crazed town starved for a winner, Philadelphia has gone wild over Smarty Jones.
The morning after the Philadelphia Flyers advanced to the conference finals of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup playoffs, they had to share the back-page of the Philadelphia Daily News with Smarty Jones, the Kentucky Derby winner who returned to his Philadelphia Park barn Tuesday night. Smarty Jones had not been here since the first week in January, when few outside of this stable gate knew of him.
On his first morning back at the track affectionately known as the "Pha," news crews from six Philadelphia television stations and more than a dozen photographers filmed Smarty Jones's every move.
It wasn't hard to spot Smarty Jones on the track, either. Philadelphia Park management will allow only Smarty Jones on the track for the first 15 minutes or so after the renovation break. That policy began Wednesday and is expected to continue through next Thursday, the day Smarty Jones is expected to ship to Baltimore for the May 15 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.
Sal Sinatra Jr., Philadelphia Park's director of racing who on Wednesday doubled as the public relations director, recalled the incident that prompted this decision.
"John," Sinatra said, referring to the trainer of Smarty Jones, "had a nice 2-year-old a couple of years ago that he was trying to get to the Sorority, and she wound up getting kicked. We're not going to let that happen again."
"I think it's great they did that," Servis said. "It shows you how much Philadelphia Park is loving this horse."
Smarty Jones arrived at Philadelphia Park shortly before 9 o'clock Tuesday night. He was flown from Louisville to Baltimore and took a van to Philadelphia. A helicopter, presumably from a television station in Baltimore, followed the van all the way to Philadelphia Park. A police escort - consisting of one car and one motorcycle - led the horse van off I-95 to the track's stable gate.
"It was unbelievable," said Servis, who only arrived in town about 30 minutes before the horse after driving back from Louisville with his wife Sherry.
The Servises spent most of their 11-hour ride - not including a stay-over in Morgantown, W.Va. - answering phone calls.
"We hardly got to converse," John Servis said. "The radio never went on one time."
The gaggle of press waiting to get into the Philadelphia Park stable gate Wednesday morning was unprecedented. Shortly before 7:30 a.m., the media descended on barn 11, where Servis has 44 horses stabled. The cameramen immediately rushed to the opening across from stall 38, where Smarty Jones peeked out and munched on hay.
Trainer Danny Lopez, who has horses in a barn next to Servis, watched the proceedings and smiled in between puffs of a cigar. "It's good for racing, it's good for Philadelphia Park. It's so quiet here all the time. Now, all of a sudden it's chaotic."
Mark Fusco, another trainer stabled near Servis, knew something was going on Tuesday "when the television cameras are at Philadelphia Park, and they're planting bushes before the horse gets here."
Smarty Jones, accompanied by a pony, entered the track at 8:35 on Wednesday morning, as horsemen and media lined the rails under a cloudless sky. With regular exercise rider Pete Van Trump up, Smarty Jones simply walked the wrong way alongside the pony from the quarter pole to the middle of the clubhouse turn before picking it up into an easy jog. He left the track at 8:50.
"I just wanted to let him go out there and stretch his legs a little bit," Servis said. "[Thursday] he'll do a little more. In the next two or three days, I'll know where we're at."
Servis plans to be at the Preakness on May 15. But he nearly crushed the assembled media's hearts when he added the following caveat: "If he shows that it's taken a little bit of a toll on him, then we'll pass. It's not that important to jeopardize my horse for the Triple Crown, it's just not."
On Saturday, the next day of live racing at Philly, the public will be welcome to watch Smarty Jones gallop at 8:30 a.m. Gates open at 8, and coffee and donuts will be served. Admission is free. On Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell will present the connections of Smarty Jones with a proclamation. On Tuesday, a backstretch barbecue is planned, sponsored by the track and the local horseman's association.
Servis does not plan to breeze Smarty Jones before the Preakness. Most likely, Smarty Jones will ship to Baltimore next Thursday afternoon and gallop Friday at Pimlico. There is a chance he could ship Wednesday.
On Thursday, a crew from the Philadelphia Flyers marketing department was scheduled to film Smarty Jones wearing a Flyers saddle towel. The image is expected to be displayed on the center-ice scoreboard next week, when the Flyers host Tampa Bay in games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Philadelphia may have four professional sports teams, but it is truly a one-horse town.
The Cliff's Edge keeps up at Churchill
The Cliff's Edge, fifth in the Derby after losing both front shoes during the race, returned to training Wednesday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., where he will remain stabled until he is flown Monday to Baltimore.
Nick Zito, trainer of The Cliff's Edge, once again congratulated the connections of Smarty Jones. "He's obviously a real horse," said Zito. "Whenever a horse is 7 for 7, you can't go past that."
Zito said The Cliff's Edge would have a maintenance breeze a day or two before leaving for Pimlico.
"The horse will go to Pimlico, but I may go to Belmont to see my other horses for a day or two after we leave here," he said.
Greely keeps Borrego in Louisville
Borrego, 10th in the Derby, became even more likely to run in the Preakness when trainer Beau Greely declined to put Borrego on a charter flight that left Louisville for California on Wednesday morning. Also, co-owner Dennis Foster said Wednesday at Churchill that he had Express Mailed a $20,000 check to cover the entry and starting fees.
"That was the last flight out to California for a while," said Buddy Fife, agent for Tex Sutton, the company that runs the charters. "Beau's horse is booked to go to Baltimore next week."
Charter flights from Louisville for Baltimore are scheduled for both Monday and Wednesday.
Greely had considered skipping the Preakness in favor of waiting for the Belmont. Pimlico officials are listing Borrego as definite for their race.
Right back to work for Lion Heart
Lion Heart, the Derby runner-up, had another leisurely day of training at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., where he galloped a mile Wednesday. Lion Heart resumed training Monday after just one morning off following the Derby.
Trainer Patrick Biancone said he has made a habit of getting Lion Heart out of his stall for extended periods of time each day amid the quiet surroundings at Keeneland.
"We will take him out this afternoon and let him eat some grass," said Biancone. "I like to have him out at least four hours every day. It makes him happy."
Preachinatthebar unlikely for Preakness
Trainer Bob Baffert said Wednesday from California that it is doubtful he will run Preachinatthebar in the 129th Preakness.
"If the picture stays the same, then I'll definitely point him toward the Sir Barton," said Baffert.
As for Bornwithit, who won a Derby week allowance at Churchill, Baffert said, "I'm not ready to commit him to any race in particular."
Mulhall keeps Imperialism on hold
Trainer Kristin Mulhall said Imperialism remains a candidate for the Preakness Stakes, but has been sent back to Mulhall's stable at Hollywood Park.
Even though owner Steve Taub and jockey Kent Desormeaux are urging Mulhall to send Imperialism, she is taking a more cautious approach.
"I need him to be tearing down the stall," she said. "I want to school him in the gate."
Mulhall said the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park is a long-term goal for Imperialism.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marty McGee