02/24/2004 12:00AM

Smarty Jones: Route an issue

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - With sprint influences on both sides of his pedigree, , who has won his three career starts by a combined 27 3/4 lengths, still has questions to answer about his distance abilities. But that's a concern for later. He is in every way the horse to beat Saturday in the $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The Southwest, a one-mile race, is the first of three route stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn. The others are the $200,000 Rebel, at 1 1/16 miles March 20, and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby, at 1 1/8 miles April 10.

Smarty Jones is here for the series. A son of Elusive Quality, Smarty Jones was bred in Pennsylvania, raised in Florida, and has opened up his career with three eye-catching races between Philadelphia Park and Aqueduct.

Smarty Jones won his two-turn debut in his last start, when he drove to a five-length win in the $75,000 Count Fleet over the inner track at Aqueduct on Jan. 3. He used stalking tactics after stumbling at the start, which was in stark contrast to his front-running win one start earlier in the seven-furlong Pennsylvania Nursery on Nov. 22.

Smarty Jones did not break sharply from the one hole in that full field and had to use his speed to hold his position.

"It got him kind of rattled," said John Servis, who trains Smarty Jones for Roy and Pat Chapman. Servis said that jockey Stewart Elliott told him, " 'The next thing I know I'm five in front, and I'm cranking him, trying to slow him down, and he's just wanting to roll.' And he did. They went the first three-quarters in 1:08.80."

Smarty Jones ended up winning the race by 15 lengths, and for his effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 105. It was one of the top numbers given to a 2-year-old in 2003. But despite the awesome display of speed and domination, Servis knew things had to change if Smarty Jones was going to be effective at 3.

"After that race, I was kind of concerned, because he never seemed to settle the whole race," he said. "We started changing his training pattern a little bit, and he seemed to relax a lot more. And when he ran in the Count Fleet, Stewart just sat on him and never really asked him. He just settled in nice, rated real kind, and when Stewart called on him, he went on. After the race, he galloped out real strong."

His effort thrilled Elliott, the leading rider at Philadelphia Park, who will be aboard Smarty Jones on Saturday.

"His last race, he showed he didn't have to be in front, that he would settle and go further, and that was probably the biggest thing that impressed me," said Elliott. "He has a lot of speed, but he's not one-dimensional, where he has to be in front. He can be rated."

Servis said he put more two-minute mile drills than works into Smarty Jones going into the Count Fleet.

"That seemed to take a little bit of the edge off of him," he said.

A pacing drill, a two-minute mile, can help teach a horse to control his speed better. The drills have also been a part of his preparation for the Southwest.

"To watch him train, I could tell you if he was by Dynaformer, or somebody like that. There's no doubt that he'll go long," said Servis. "But knowing his pedigree, you can't help but have [questions] in the back of your mind."

Smarty Jones, who is muscular but long-bodied, is out of two-time stakes winner I'll Get Along. She did win around two turns but is by sprint champion Smile. Smarty Jones's sire is also the sire of Great Notion, who won last year's Southwest.

It's a pedigree that will be tested further into the meet at Oaklawn, but not Saturday.

* Others track officials consider probable for the Southwest are Wildcat Shoes, to be ridden by Terry Thompson; Pro Prado, John McKee; Proper Prado, Luis Quinonez; Got The Goods, Calvin Borel; Pyramid Performer, Joe Johnson; and Archie B., Carlos Marquez, Jr.