06/01/2004 11:00PM

Smarty to face eight in quest for Crown

Bensalem, Pennsylvania police escort the van carrying Smarty Jones out of the Philadelphia Park backside Wednesday on the first leg of the Triple Crown hopeful's journey to Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones drew the far outside post position number nine and will face a field of eight rivals when he bids to become Thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner since 1978 in Saturday's 136th running of the Belmont Stakes. Smarty Jones is listed as the 2-5 favorite in the morning-line odds, and will again be ridden by regular rider Stewart Elliott in the 1 1/2-mile, $1 million race.

Smarty Jones, who is based at Philadelphia Park, had a light gallop with his pony on Wednesday morning. He was scheduled to leave Philadelphia for Belmont late Wednesday morning and will make the 100-mile van ride with the help of police escorts through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Smarty Jones' trainer John Servis arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday morning in time for the Belmont Stakes post position draw.

Smarty Jones' prime competition in the Belmont Stakes is expected to come from 8-1 morning-line third choice Rock Hard Ten, who exits a well-beaten third-place finish behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness. Rock Hard Ten drew post position five in the Belmont. He will be making only his fifth lifetime start, however, trainer Jason Orman thinks he is coming up to the biggest effort of his career. "He likes this track surface. He's doing great. (This week's workout) was the best he's ever worked. Now we're just waiting for Saturday."

Rock Hard Ten went to the track at Belmont for a jog on Wednesday morning and is scheduled to gallop and school at the gate on both Thursday and Friday after misbehaving at the gate and delaying the start of the Preakness. Alex Solis will ride Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont.

Bobby Frankel trainee Master David, who was announced as a Belmont starter early on Wednesday morning, drew the rail and will be ridden by Jose Santos. Master David is listed at 20-1 in the morning line. "I don't think we can beat him," said Frankel of Smarty Jones, "but this is horseracing and anything can happen. My horse has no negatives coming into this race."

Trainer Nick Zito will have two Belmont starters in his quest to win his first Belmont Stakes. Birdstone, who is scheduled to arrive at Belmont from Saratoga on Wednesday afternoon, drew post four and is listed at 15-1 in the morning line. Royal Assault, who won Pimlico's Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard in his last race, drew post six. He is listed at 20-1 odds.

The is completed by Preakness third-place finisher Eddington (post 8, 10-1), Peter Pan Stakes winner Purge (post 2, second choice at 5-1), Tap Dancer (post 7, 50-1), and Caiman (post 3, 50-1).