03/02/2007 12:00AM

Servis in a rebuilding year


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer John Servis has made a lot of noise at Oaklawn Park in the last three years, winning graded stakes with the high-profile horses Smarty Jones, Round Pond, and Rockport Harbor. But this meet, his stable has been unusually quiet. Servis is rebuilding these days, less than a year after splitting with one of his major clients, Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm.

Servis said he is carrying about 20 fewer horses than he had a year ago, with a 14-horse barn at Oaklawn, where he has made limited starts, and another 25-head based at Philadelphia Park. Yet to join the stable are a number of promising 2-year-olds by such sires as Dixie Union, Doneraile Court, Officer, Whywhywhy, and Lemon Drop Kid.

"I would say right now, it's a little bit of a lull year for me," said Servis, who was five wins from career victory 1,000 through Thursday.

"I've got a couple of young horses that I think are going to be okay," he said. "I mean, I think they're going to be exciting horses. No Rockport Harbors or Rounds Ponds, but we bought a bunch of young horses, and there's nothing to say that next year there won't be one of those horses in there."

Servis has a reputation for spotting young talent. Among the yearlings he has purchased for clients are multiple Grade 1 winners Sharp Cat, Round Pond, and Jostle; Grade 2 winner Rockport Harbor; and Zonk, a multiple Grade 3 winner. Servis trained Jostle, Round Pond, Rockport Harbor, and Zonk, all for Fox Hill.

"He has a terrific eye for a young horse," said Porter.

Porter and Servis split last spring, after a hectic Oaklawn meet in which Round Pond, who won the Grade 1 Acorn in 2005 for Servis, won her seasonal debut in an optional claimer and also captured the Grade 3 Azeri over Happy Ticket.

The Azeri was her last start for Servis. She went on to win the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November for trainer Michael Matz. Servis also sent out Rockport Harbor to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex here last year in his first start at 4.

"John and I have had a tremendous business and personal relationship for 13 or 14 years, and not just John but his whole family," said Porter. "It was a very difficult thing when we split up.

"John and I speak periodically. You know, we're still friends, and you know, we'll probably have horses together again. We have a little hiatus right now. We had some differences. We decided to split up. We very well may be together again at some point."

Servis's whirlwind 2006 Oaklawn meet came a season after he sent out Round Pond to win the track's Gradeo2 Fantasy, and trained Rockport Harbor to become a top-ranked 3-year-old. In 2004, Servis swept Oaklawn's series for 3-year-olds with Smarty Jones, the eventual winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness for owner Someday Farm.

As for the quieter times, they have been enjoyable, too, said Servis.

"We're getting to focus in on work without distractions, and things are good," he said. "It's given me a lot more time to focus in on the important things in life, instead of just business. When you get caught up in that media hoopla, it kind of engulfs you where you kind of lose focus on what's important, and for me, I had a wakeup call that really made me realize where my priorities need to be.

"There was a time where my family needed me and I was giving too much time to the business, and thank God I realized it in time. The thing with Rick was unfortunate, but really, timing-wise it was perfect because it got me to where, again, I realized my family needed me also."

Servis said it hurts to lose a "superstar," like Round Pond, but he has taken the loss in stride. He was her biggest fan heading into the Distaff, which she upset at 13-1.

"Let me tell you something, gambling, I killed them," he said. "I did. I know how good she is. I wheeled her in the exacta and everything."

Although Servis does not have a Kentucky Derby horse in his barn this year, he is closely following Great Hunter. Servis purchased his dam, Zenith, for Porter as a yearling, and trained her. She become a stakes winner.

"She'd run all day long," Servis said of Zenith. "She'd run a mile and a half."

Referring to Great Hunter, he said, "That's my sleeper for the Derby."

Servis has picked up some new clients since the split with Porter, among them Will Schwartz, Little Red Feather Syndicate, Desperado Stables, and Frank Fletcher, a prominent Arkansas businessman for whom he has a number of 2-year-olds being broken in Florida.

"Hopefully, there will be something that will emerge and will be good," said Servis. "It will come. It's going to heat up again, I'm sure." "It's always special to set a track record," said Albarado. "I was on [Toby's Success], and that was also a Louisiana-bred."

Albarado won three races on the card for Asmussen - the third with Hallway, the fifth with Tux n' Tales, and the seventh with Mad Adam. Albarado also won the sixth race aboard Tenkiller Lake.