05/23/2002 11:00PM

A rookie with veteran experience


OCEANPORT, N.J. - It's 11 a.m. on a slow Wednesday and the rush of morning workouts and other training duties is winding down. The sun is beaming down on the Monmouth Park backside and the clear skies are a perfect backdrop to the quiet barn area.

Over at Barn 1, Jason Servis leans back in a small white plastic chair and takes it all in. Servis, 45, is enjoying every part of his first summer as a trainer.

"Things are going really well," Servis said. "It's been the best experience of my life."

This is Servis's first year training on his own, but few trainers at Monmouth have more knowledge of the track and horses here. Servis has done it all since coming to Monmouth 25 years ago at the age of 19: valet in the jockeys' room, exercise rider, assistant trainer, clerk of scales, racing office employee.

"I know just about everyone at this track," he said. "I know horses inside and out. I used to gallop for everybody and anybody. It has all added up for a great recipe as a trainer."

To say that Thoroughbred racing has been a part of Servis's family would be an understatement. Jason was born in 1957 in Charles Town, W. Va., when his father, Joe, was riding at the racetrack there. Joe Servis was a jockey and then a steward, and still works part-time as a steward at Penn National and Monmouth. His brother John is a very successful trainer on the East Coast who trained the Grade 1 winner Jostle. His brother-in-law, Ed Plesa, is a trainer who stables in Florida. His uncle Jack Servis is an agent for jockey Jose Flores, who is second in the standings at Philadelphia Park.

So it was no surprise when Jason became an exercise rider in 1972 at age 15, and then a jockey three years later at Waterford Park (now Mountaineer Park) in West Virginia. He stopped racing as a jockey after one year, and came to Monmouth Park in 1977, taking a position as a valet in the jockeys' room. He continued to gallop horses, learning as much as he could with the thought in the back of his mind of becoming a trainer.

While working at Monmouth for trainer Joe Orseno in the late 1980's and early '90's, Servis met owner Dennis Drazin. With Drazin's encouragement, Servis became an assistant to Peter Fortay, who trains horses for Drazin. After 10 years as an assistant trainer, Servis this winter was given the opportunity by Drazin to open his own barn. Drazin needed someone to train his horses at Aqueduct, and then at Monmouth in the summer.

"Jason has a knack for understanding horses better than anyone I've ever met," said Drazin, who is a local attorney. "He has the combination of abilities to be a successful trainer. He's a top-notch guy who deserves the opportunity to succeed."

Servis had his first starter in mid-December at Aqueduct, and his first winner was on March 13 with Hattab Be You. A half-brother to Holy Bull, Hattab Be You is owned by Drazin. Servis ended the Aqueduct meet with four horses in his stable, but that number has swelled to 14. Drazin owns nine of the horses, six of which are 2-year-olds. The most promising 2-year-old is a Seattle Slew filly named Sunrise Slew. Servis's other owner is Tom LaMarca, a resident of Lebanon, PA.

Servis's biggest day as a trainer will come Sunday, when he saddles Tempest Fugit in the $50,000 Frisk Me Now Stakes, as both horse and trainer seek their first stakes win. Tempest Fugit was claimed by Drazin for $75,000 April 5 and he will be making his first start for Servis.

Tempest Fugit means "time flies" in Latin. But Servis is hoping time doesn't fly by that quickly, because he is savoring every moment of his career as a trainer.

Rematch in Malley Stakes

Merry Princess and Maypole Dance, first and second in the $75,000 The Very One Stakes at Pimlico May 17, square off again in Sunday's 11th race, the $50,000 Thomas J. Malley Stakes.

The Thomas J. Malley, run at five furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares, drew a full field of 12. The field also includes Silent Serenade, Tra La (dirt only), Go Baby Go, Curious Treasures, Sparkling Number, To Marquet, Super Wager, Walts Wharf, All Spades, and Tugger.

Lukas returns to the shore

D. Wayne Lukas, who last stabled here two years ago, is back with a string of 15, with five more horses to arrive shortly, according to assistant trainer Rafael Castellano. Castellano said that the focus of the barn is 2-year-olds. Lukas has had great success with juveniles here, having won the Sapling eight times since 1987.

Lukas was fourth in the trainers' standings in 1999 and second in 1996. In 2000, he won the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks with Spain.