11/03/2004 1:00AM

Smarty vs. Ghostzapper a dream race

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EQUI-PHOTOS
Smarty Jones with John Servis, who imagines his near Triple Crown star taking on Ghostzapper.

PHILADELPHIA - John Servis watched the Breeders' Cup with family and friends at his Bensalem, Pa., home. He truly wanted to be at Lone Star Park with Smarty Jones. He wanted to find out just how good the colt really was.

Instead, he had to settle for running imaginary races in his mind. When the BC Classic was over, with Ghostzapper leaving a lasting impression in his bid for Horse of the Year, Servis praised the 4-year-old who did not lose in 2004 and offered his perspective on the candidacy of Smarty Jones.

How do you compare a 3-year-old who raced from Jan. 3 until June 5 to a 4-year-old who raced from July 4 until Oct. 30?

"It's hard," Servis said. "With an older horse like Ghostzapper, you have a whole lot more options. You can spot him around really good and get him to the Breeders' Cup in great shape. With Smarty, we didn't have many options. Our goal was the Kentucky Derby. We mapped out a plan. We raced him non-stop, and in the final race, he came up a little bit short. It was a grueling campaign for us. It would have been great to be able to spot him around."

How do you compare the grind a 3-year-old goes through in the Triple Crown to a 4-year-old who is brilliantly managed? You don't. It's not the same.

What is it worth to come within a length of being only the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner in history, as Smarty Jones did? What is it worth for a horse - Ghostzapper - to compile Beyer Speed Figures of 120, 128, 114, and 124?

The voters, of course, will make those determinations.

"I think we're certainly in contention," Servis said. "Ghostzapper was impressive. He's a very nice horse."

So what would have happened if Smarty had hooked up with Ghostzapper in the Classic?

"The one thing that just irks me and eats away at me is that I would have loved to see this horse, like most 3-year-olds do at this time of the year, mature to that next level," Servis said. "He was freaky as it was. He goes to the next level, there's no telling what kind of numbers this horse is running."

Ghostzapper's trainer, Bobby Frankel, obviously likes Ghostzapper as Horse of the Year.

"It's a no-brainer," he said. "If he doesn't get it, it would be a crime."

Said Servis: "If he [Smarty] wins the Belmont, is it even an issue?"

It is not. But circumstances conspired to deny Smarty the Triple Crown he deserved.

"I know in my heart he should have won the Belmont," Servis said.

"Smarty Jones is a great horse," Frankel said. "And who knows what would have happened? But he hasn't proven it. Well, I proved it. Simple as that."

How about that imaginary race?

"I think [Smarty] wins the [BC Classic]," Servis said. "Obviously, I'm going to say that. But I can tell you that Ghostzapper wouldn't have been coasting on the front end like that. He wouldn't have been going along at any leisurely pace."

Servis can't get that imaginary Classic out of his mind.

"I've probably run that race 10 times in the last two days," he said on Monday. "That 1:59.02 would have been a lot faster, I can tell you that. It would have been very entertaining on the front end, and who knows, it might have set it up for Pleasantly Perfect. I would have loved to have been there Saturday."

But he wasn't. And his horse wasn't.

If they can, voters should keep emotion out of this and simply weigh the accomplishments of the two horses. But that probably won't happen. Many are unhappy with Roy and Pat Chapman for retiring Smarty Jones. Others don't like Frankel and Ghostzapper's owner, Frank Stronach. It is silly and unprofessional. Voters ought to make the decision strictly on the merits and move on.

There is no question the whole Aug. 2 Smarty retirement announcement was handled poorly.

"I think a lot of that was probably my fault," Servis said. "I saw where he was" - that is, the colt was training poorly due to wear-and-tear injuries. "I'm listening to too many people. I got people other than the Chapmans who were involved in this horse saying, 'It's not really going to be worth bringing him back. He's worth too much money. You can't take the risk.' Ideally, we should have said, 'He needs a break. We're not going to run him any more this year, and hopefully bring him back next year.' "

That, of course, is not what happened. There was immediate backlash when Dr. Larry Bramlage said of Smarty on retirement day that "the risks are minor. We bring horses back from this injury all the time. . . . The prognosis for full recovery is excellent."

"We had no idea he was going to say that," Pat Chapman said recently. She had no idea the colt's problems really were not severe.

According to Servis, the Chapmans ordered tests on Smarty to be redone in recent weeks. They showed that Smarty was recovering from the initial injuries. But Servis was also told that recent ultrasound tests showed significant cartilage loss in the colt's left front ankle.

How all this will affect voters, only they know. How do you compare two horses who never ran against each other, who never even ran in the same month?

Ghostzapper ended his season by beating the best field of horses assembled all year. Smarty began it by dominating the Triple Crown like no horse before him who did not actually win the Triple Crown.

"To pitch my horse a little bit, he ran great speed figures three weeks apart," Servis said. "He didn't run once and then not run for 60 days and then run. He had a 107 Beyer, a 108 Beyer, a 118 Beyer in the Preakness. There was no telling how good this horse was going to become."

Servis is now looking forward. His hot 2-year-old, Rockport Harbor, won his third straight start in Tuesday's Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct. And, like the early Smarty, he dominated.

"The one thing that was concerning was all the hype this horse was getting because of Smarty," Servis said. "It put a lot of pressure on me and the horse going into this race. We had a lot riding on him."

Rockport Harbor's next start will be in February at Oaklawn Park. If he's good enough, he will follow the Smarty road toward the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

"There is not a lot of comparisons other than the fact that this horse is fast," Servis said. "His stride is such that he covers so much ground so easy, where Smarty was the complete opposite. He was high-energy level."

Smarty was also possessed of great talent. Ghostzapper is similar. It is hard to say anything bad about the ability of either horse.

It's also unfortunate they didn't get to race each other so everybody would know, instead of having to imagine.