06/02/2004 11:00PM

Servis making all the right moves


ELMONT, N.Y. - Smarty Jones is the first horse John Servis has ever run in a Triple Crown race. The pressure and demands of getting a horse to the Kentucky Derby, then seeing him through the next two legs of the Triple Crown, have unraveled trainers with far more experience in big races.

Yet throughout this spring, Servis has displayed the poise of someone quietly confident that his way is the right way. At every point where a critical decision needed to be made, Servis's path proved to be the correct one.

Earlier this year, Servis decided to take Smarty Jones to Arkansas, believing the series of prep races at Oaklawn Park offered the ideal progression toward the Kentucky Derby.

After victories in the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and then the Arkansas Derby, Smarty Jones became the first unbeaten horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.

"He laid me out a plan - here is what we are going to do with this horse, and if he goes the way we'll say he goes, he'll go to the Derby," said Roy Chapman, who owns Smarty Jones with his wife, Pat, after the Derby. "He did not deviate one inch."

At the Derby, trainers must pick the posts for the horses in a draft-style format. Servis did his homework. While trainers with far more Derby experience selected posts that forced their horses to be loaded earlier, Servis took the absolutely best post, number 15. It is the first stall in the auxiliary gate, and offers a comfortable gap between post 14, the final stall in the main gate.

Servis also was one of the few Derby trainers who did not give Smarty Jones a schooling session in the Churchill Downs paddock. "I thought the element of surprise would be better than having the Derby be the second time he came over," Servis said.

As the profile of Smarty Jones increased, Servis was besieged by jockey agents of high-profile riders who were seeking to bump Stewart Elliott, who had ridden Smarty Jones since his first start. Servis turned back each inquiry with the same succinct line: "Stew's my man."

Smarty Jones raced without Lasix for the first six starts of his career, but Servis decided to add it for the Derby. It was a risk, but Servis thought Smarty Jones might relax better with the medication.

"It was my trump card," Servis said. "He was doing so good, I was a little afraid. But he relaxed so well. Stew said he could have put him anywhere that day."

In between the Derby and Preakness, Servis decided Smarty Jones did not need a workout. Having won the Derby, fitness was not an issue. Keeping Smarty Jones fresh was paramount. No horse had ever won the Derby and then the Preakness without a work in between, but again Servis proved he knew exactly what his horse needed.

"The mental aspect is huge," Servis said. "You can have the fastest horse in the world, but if he's not mentally prepared, he's not going to give his best effort."

Following the Preakness, Servis sent Smarty Jones back to Philadelphia Park, where the trainer is based. When Servis runs horses in New York, he usually does not send them up until the day before or day of the race. Smarty Jones arrived Wednesday, and only because Servis needed to be in New York by then for the post draw. He saw no need to come in any earlier.

"You have to train each horse individually," Servis said. "I'm just doing what I think the horse wants, and so far it's worked."