05/27/2004 11:00PM

Smarty takes it easy in work

Smarty Jones, Stewart Elliott up, works seven furlongs in 1:29.20 Friday at Philadelphia Park, his final workout before the June 5 Belmont Stakes.

BENSALEM, Pa. - Smarty Jones used his speed to roll over his opponents in his early races. As the distances of his races have increased, he has been taught to ration that speed. On Friday morning at Philadelphia Park, in his final workout for the June 5 Belmont Stakes, Smarty Jones doled out that speed judiciously, as trainer John Servis continues to hone Smarty Jones for the longest and most-watched race of his career.

If Smarty Jones adds the Belmont to previous victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, he will become the 12th Triple Crown winner. Just one year ago, Funny Cide failed in a similar bid. Four days before the Belmont, Funny Cide sped five furlongs in 57.82 seconds, a tipoff he was simply too anxious for a 1 1/2-mile race.

Smarty Jones proved far more cooperative in his work. With jockey Stewart Elliott aboard, he went steadily through a seven-furlong drill in which he was given an official time of 1:29.20. The fractions reported were 26.60 seconds, 39.20, 51.20, 1:03.20, and 1:16.20. Clockers reported him galloping out one mile in 1:44.20.

"I didn't want him to gallop out too much," Servis said.

The time for the first quarter-mile seems implausible. Smarty Jones went off easily, but it strains belief that he went 26.60 seconds for his first quarter, then sped three consecutive furlongs ranging from 12 seconds to 12.60 seconds.

Regardless, the overall mission was accomplished. Servis wanted to err on the side of caution.

"I did think about Funny Cide," Servis said. "I knew my horse needed a hard work before the Derby, but I didn't want to go into the Belmont with a work like he had at the Derby. I could tell by the way he acted after the work that I might have to do more with him next week, maybe give him a strong gallop Tuesday or Wednesday."

Smarty Jones came out on the track at 5:40 a.m. accompanied by stable pony Butterscotch, who was ridden by exercise rider Pete Van Trump. Servis watched the work from the backstretch. The track was closed except for Smarty Jones. After entering at the quarter-mile chute, Smarty Jones walked the wrong way to the five-furlong pole. After turning around, Smarty Jones jogged with Butterscotch while appearing eager to do more.

"I told Stew and Pete both, 'I don't want you breaking off. I want him to walk off,' " Servis said.

Van Trump finally let Smarty Jones loose from Butterscotch just after passing the finish line. Smarty Jones was on his own just before reaching the 7 1/2-furlong pole. He was clocked from the seven-furlong pole to the wire. He began his work about five paths from the rail, but was in the two path when he turned into the stretch.

"We kept him off the rail so he would relax," Elliott said. "Down the backside he was going along good and relaxed. I let him drop over at the three-eighths, and he picked up the pace a little bit. The key is to keep my horse relaxed, because there's a long way to go. He's got plenty of natural speed. He's learning to control it."

The local NBC affiliate in Philadelphia taped the workout and played it later on its morning newscast. Elliott was interviewed Friday morning by "Good Morning America." A helicopter from a local news channel hovered over the track during the workout.

"I was a little surprised, but it didn't faze him," Elliott said.

No, life at Philadelphia Park has never been like this.

"It's like your kid's going to trade school, and all of a sudden he gets accepted to Harvard, his grade point average is 4.0, and he comes home with Bill Gates's daughter on his arm. It's surreal," said Hal Handel, the chief executive officer at Philadelphia Park.

According to Servis, Smarty Jones was scheduled to merely walk his barn's shed row Saturday. Following that, he would jog Sunday, "unless he's a complete maniac" and needs to gallop, Servis said. Smarty Jones will gallop Monday and Tuesday and will then be sent by van to Belmont Park either Tuesday night or Wednesday after another routine gallop.

"Then I'll keep him with the pony the rest of the week," Servis said.

Rock Hard Ten may go to gate blindfolded

During Rock Hard Ten's 30-minute gate-schooling session Friday, Belmont Park starter Bob Duncan put a blindfold on him, and Rock Hard Ten seemed to handle it pretty well. A bit reluctant to load without the blindfold, Rock Hard Ten was fairly quiet as he was loaded in and out of the gate with the blindfold on.

"That's plan B," Duncan said. "I've got a plan C that I hope I don't have to go to. He had his moments where he still wants to be a little resistant. You just never know race day where all your work has paid off."

Jason Orman, trainer of Rock Hard Ten, said he wouldn't have a problem if Rock Hard Ten were loaded with a blindfold. Rock Hard Ten was fractious at the gate before running second in the Preakness.

"Whatever gets him to relax more and gets him in the gate the easiest," Orman said.

Duncan also loaded Rock Hard Ten without the blindfold and then with exercise rider John Byrne up. After being schooled, Rock Hard Ten galloped a strong 1 1/4 miles over the training track.

"He gallops like that when he's fit," Orman said. "That's why I think he really needed that last race. Nothing like a race to get a horse fit."

Orman said if Rock Hard Ten gallops that strongly Saturday, he would not work him in blinkers Monday. "He's run well enough without them," he said. "I think once he gets in a race he'll be focused."

* Tap Dancer, who is also based at Philadelphia Park, worked six furlongs in 1:16.42 later Friday morning.

"He went just fine," said his trainer, Ned Allard. "I didn't want him to go fast. I just wanted to get some mileage in him."

Allard said Tap Dancer would travel by van to Belmont Park the day before the race. Tap Dancer was fourth in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard May 15 at Pimlico.

- additional reporting by David Grening