06/07/2004 12:00AM

Servis: 'Proud of what we did'

Birdstone (outside) passes the heavily favored Smarty Jones near the shadow of the wire.

ELMONT, N.Y. - When Smarty Jones arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday, he was accompanied by a police escort that had shadowed him from Pennsylvania, through New Jersey, and on to New York. On a bright, sunny day, a large crowd gathered near Belmont Park's Barn 5 that day to see the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner.

On Sunday morning, when Smarty Jones was put on a van for his ride back to Philadelphia Park, light rain fell and clouds lingered over Belmont Park. A significantly smaller crowd was there to bid him adieu. "Where's the police escort?" his trainer, John Servis, joked.

The melancholy scene was appropriate for a Triple Crown whose final act went from ecstasy to agony in the space of 27 seconds. Smarty Jones turned into the stretch of the Belmont Stakes with a quarter-mile remaining and a 3 1/2-length lead. The record crowd of 120,139 roared, and the Belmont grandstand shook. But when Birdstone caught Smarty Jones in the final yards, the place went silent.

For the third straight year, sixth time in the last eight years, and 10th time since Affirmed last swept the Triple Crown in 1978, a Derby and Preakness winner could not complete his mission in the Belmont. For Smarty Jones, it was also the first time he had ever lost a race, after eight previous victories.

"This is a tough race, it really is," Servis said Sunday morning. "I'm disappointed we didn't get it done, but I'm glad it's over, and I'm proud of what we did."

Later, Servis added, "We've had a hell of a year, and we're not done."

Smarty Jones is scheduled to race again this fall, with his main objective the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. Before then, however, Smarty Jones will get a well-deserved rest. He had three preps at Oaklawn Park prior to the Kentucky Derby, then was the only 3-year-old to run in all three Triple Crown races. And not until the final quarter-mile of the Belmont did it all catch up to him.

"He's going to get three or four weeks off. Let him rest up," Servis said. Servis said Smarty Jones would be hand-walked at his Philadelphia Park barn for several days, then would be walked under tack for three or four weeks. He said Smarty Jones would not go back to the track to train until then.

Given that timetable, a race like Monmouth's Haskell Invitational on Aug. 8 will come up too quickly, as could the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28. The most likely comeback race for Smarty Jones could be the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Labor Day, Sept. 6. Pat Chapman, who owns Smarty Jones with her husband, Roy, has said she would like to see Smarty Jones race at his home track.

Regardless of when Smarty Jones comes back, Servis said he would probably have a second prep before the Breeders' Cup. "It's going to have to be a race against older horses," he said.

After that, a potential stud syndication might preclude Smarty Jones from racing at 4. Much of that figures to be determined in the next week, during which time the Chapmans are scheduled to visit several Kentucky breeding farms desirous of being the home of Smarty Jones when he is through racing.

On Saturday, the Chapmans and Servis are scheduled to be at Churchill Downs when they are presented with the engraved Kentucky Derby trophy.

Everyone connected with Smarty Jones displayed uncommon grace both when winning and losing. In the immediate aftermath of what had to be a crushing defeat, Servis sought out Nick Zito, the trainer of Birdstone, and congratulated him.

"I said, 'John, I'm really sorry,'" Zito said. "He said, 'What do you mean? You did a great job.' "

Servis refused to put any blame on jockey Stewart Elliott for the loss. He said Smarty Jones was simply too eager the first part of the race and was compromised when Eddington, ridden by Jerry Bailey, and Rock Hard Ten, with Alex Solis, turned up the pressure soon after turning into the backstretch.

"Stew didn't take the bait. If anything, Smarty took the bait," Servis said. "You hate to lose, but to lose like that, he ran an exceptional race. When you have a horse going for the Triple Crown, you've got a bullseye. Those guys had nothing to lose. If my horse had settled, he could have gotten the mile and a half. He didn't settle, and he got beat a length. If my horse had settled, we've had had a Triple Crown winner. That's the hard part. In my heart, he was the best horse.

"Since January, everything has gone absolutely right. This one didn't."

"You know how much fun we've had with this horse? That's why we're not hanging our heads," Bill Foster, the barn foreman, said as dusk fell outside Barn 5 Saturday night.

"We tried. We gave it our best," said Pete Van Trump, Smarty Jones's exercise rider.

For Zito, the Belmont victory was his first after finishing second in the race five times. He called it the biggest victory of his career, surpassing those of his two Kentucky Derby wins, "because of the magnitude and everything that took place."

Zito had finished second in the Belmont five times previously. He had already won the Derby and Preakness. Not winning a Belmont gnawed at him.

"He had to win this one I think for himself to finally put his mind at ease," said Zito's wife, Kim. "This was always the albatross around his neck."

Much was made this spring of Smarty Jones's average size, but he was beaten by the smallest horse in the race. Birdstone might not even weigh 900 pounds. "I don't even want to weigh him," Zito said.

Birdstone received a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 for the Belmont, the highest of his career. Smarty Jones had run faster than that in his four previous races, ranging from a 107 in the Kentucky Derby and Arkansas Derby to a 118 in the Preakness.

Birdstone had been training at Saratoga for much of the two weeks preceding the Belmont, and he returned there on Monday. His owner, Marylou Whitney, lives there with her husband, John Henderickson. Whitney is the social queen of the Saratoga race season, and would like nothing more than to win the Travers Stakes.

"I know one race in Saratoga we're going to run in," Zito said. "Yeah, the Travers. I know that."

As for a prep, perhaps the Jim Dandy Stakes on Aug. 8. Or maybe one day earlier, against older horses.

"Maybe the Whitney," Zito said. "Who knows?"

- additional reportingby David Grening