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'Tough' colt gets Belmont footing
ELMONT, N.Y. - Pete Van Trump, the exercise rider of Smarty Jones, said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was on the muscle during his 1 1/2-mile gallop early Thursday morning. Smarty Jones galloped alongside his stable pony, Butterscotch, ridden by trainer John Servis.
"He was actually pretty tough this morning,'' Van Trump said. "He's been galloping with a pony off and on, and today he was tough as nails. He put it together today where he was a little bit laid back the last couple of days at Philly.''
The gallop was the first time Smarty Jones had ever been on the track here.
"He bounced over it, kind of like at Churchill Downs," Servis said.
Van Trump, 39, said Smarty Jones has maintained his fitness and sharpness since the Preakness.
"I don't see any difference in the way he went today than the way he went into the Preakness,'' Van Trump said.
Smarty Jones was scheduled to gallop again on Friday, and visit the starting gate. After that, there would be just the long, 36-hour wait until Saturday's race.
"It's not pressure. It's more anxiety," Servis said Thursday. "Our whole team wishes the race was today. We're a lot farther than any of us expected to be. The chance to make history is starting to set in."
Chapman wants Crown for all
Roy and Pat Chapman, the owners of Smarty Jones, were at Belmont Park early Thursday morning to watch Smarty Jones gallop over the main track. Roy Chapman said his goal entering the year was to win the Kentucky Derby, and he hopes that Smarty Jones can win the Triple Crown for his fans.
"He's done enough for us, he really has,'' Chapman said outside Belmont's barn 5. "I hope he can do the rest for the people. I know it sounds corny, but a lot of people in Philadelphia have their hearts set on this horse.''
Despite a few showers, Chapman loved being on the Belmont backstretch. Several years ago, he had horses with trainer Mark Reid, when Reid was stabled in New York.
"That was a while ago, when I was young and still walking,'' said Chapman, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from emphysema. "I love the backstretch. This, to me, is racing right here. These people make it happen.''
The Chapmans arrived in a white Ford van that had the words Smartyjones.com painted on it.
After Triple Crown, then what?
Smarty Jones's racing plans are in flux pending his sale for stallion duty. Regardless of Saturday's outcome, he figures to race just twice more this year.
Servis said the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on Aug. 8, and the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 6, are the most likely possibilities for his next start. The Pennsylvania Derby is particularly appealing to Servis, because he would like to reward the track at which he is based. Pat Chapman has also said she would like to see Smarty Jones run in the Pennsylvania Derby.
After that, Smarty Jones would be pointed for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.
Butterscotch impresses, too
Butterscotch, a former racehorse who raced under the name Scotch With a Twist, has been right with Smarty Jones all spring, galloping with him just about every morning. He had to keep up with an energetic Smarty Jones on Thursday morning.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, watching from the box seats, said, "I make Butterscotch 3-5 in any pony race. He's had a serious spring campaign."
Sur La Tete sets track hurdle record
Sur La Tete ranged up with a bold move around the final turn of the Grade 1, $100,000 Meadow Brook Steeplechase on Thursday at Belmont Park and flew home a 3 1/2-length winner.
Serrazo, the 4-5 favorite, launched his bid with a quarter-mile remaining in the 2 1/2-mile race, but had to settle for second. Serrazo finished 17 3/4 lengths in front of the third-place finisher, Jonstar, in the eight-horse field.
Sur La Tete, who was ridden by Christopher Read, covered 12 jumps and came home in 4:36.53, a track record, over a course labeled good. The winner returned $8.90.
Trained by Neil Morris, Sur La Tete is a 6-year-old son of Sky Classic and is owned by Kinross Farm.
The Meadow Brook was the final leg of the steeplechase triple crown for novice jumpers.
Sur La Tete, who carried 154 pounds as the highweight, finished second in the second leg, the National Hunt Cup, on May 15 in Pennsylvania. Sur La Tete didn't run in the first leg, the Georgia Cup, in Atlanta.
Princess Dixie tries open company
Princess Dixie has won six New York-bred stakes in her career. Saturday, she seeks her first stakes score in open company when she heads a 10-horse field in the $70,000 White Carnation Stakes for fillies and mares who have not won an open stakes in 2003-04. The race will be run at 1 1/16 miles
Princess Dixie won the Iroquois Handicap here last October and has not run since finishing fifth of six in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup at Aqueduct in April.
Saintly Action looks poised to win her first stakes in the White Carnation. She had to alter course when she finished second to the streaking Friels for Real in the Grade 3 Pimlico Distaff on Preakness Day. This will be the seventh track in the last seven starts for Saintly Action, who has the powerful team of Jerry Bailey and Bill Mott in her corner.
Other contenders include Fircroft, Alchemist, and Elegant Mercedes.
A pair of $1 million guarantees
Belmont will become the first racetrack ever to offer two $1 million-guaranteed bets on the same card on Saturday. A $1 million guaranteed pick six will link races 6 through 11, beginning with the Vagrancy Stakes and ending with the Belmont Stakes, and a $1 million pick four will link races 8 through 11. All of the races in the bets are graded stakes.
The 13-race card, which will begin with first post at noon Eastern and end nearly eight hours later, will also include rolling pick threes on every race beginning with the second. Daily doubles will begin on race 1, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 12. A special daily double linking the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes on Friday with the Belmont Stakes on Saturday will also be available.
Win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta betting will be available on every race on Saturday. Superfecta betting will be offered on the Belmont Stakes and the 13th race. Quinellas will be available on the second and fourth race.
Takeout at Belmont on win, place and show wagers is 14 percent. Takeout on two-horse wagers such as the daily double and exacta is 17.5 percent. Takeout on all other wagers is 25 percent, with the exception of the pick six on non-carryover days, when takeout is 15 percent.
Television coverage will be nearly wall-to-wall on Saturday. WNBC, the New York affiliate of NBC, will broadcast live from Belmont from 6 a.m. until 7 a.m., then from 8 to 9 a.m., and again from noon to 1 p.m. ESPN will broadcast the Belmont card beginning at 1 p.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m., when the network gives way to the 90-minute national broadcast on NBC-TV. ESPN will pick up coverage again from 7-8 p.m.
Last year, Belmont hosted a $1 million-guaranteed pick six and a $500,000-guaranteed pick four. Since then, the popularity of guaranteed bets has increased across the nation.
Belmont officials are counting on good weather this year to boost handle numbers and hit this year's guarantees. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high in the low 70's throughout Saturday. Three of the races on Saturday's card are on the turf, including the Grade 1 Manhattan.
Bill Nader, Belmont's senior vice president, said the track expects to break both its attendance and handle records on Saturday, regardless of the weather. The attendance record was set in 2002 on Belmont day when 103,222 showed up to watch War Emblem's unsuccessful Triple Crown bid. The all-time handle record was also set that day, when all-sources handle on a 13-race card was $95,443,037. Nader said he expects handle on Saturday to exceed $105 million.
No ads on Elliott
Kelly Wietsma, the president of Equisponse, said Thursday that at least four jockeys will likely have deals to wear advertisements in this year's Belmont - Jerry Bailey, Alex Solis, John Velazquez, and Jose Santos. But as of Thursday afternoon, a deal to sign Stewart Elliott, the rider of heavily favored Smarty Jones, had not been completed, Wietsma said.
Jockeys have worn advertising this year in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Wietsma's company has been working nearly nonstop since just before the Derby to sign jockeys to long-term deals, but so far, companies have stepped gingerly into a relatively new market, with most signing one-race deals.
Negotiations were ongoing to sign Elliott to a deal, but Wietsma said complications had arisen because of a potential conflict with one of Belmont Park's sponsors. She declined to name the company because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Velazquez, the rider of Purge in the Belmont, will wear advertising for the equine product Legend, which is made by Bayer, the pharmaceutical company. According to the company, Legend is an intravenous treatment for joint inflammation. The company has used trainer Bob Baffert as a spokesman in the past.
Velazquez's deal, Wietsma said, also includes Purge's trainer, Todd Pletcher, who is the official spokesman for another equine product, Gastrogard, an ulcer medication.
Thursday morning, Pletcher said he didn't know the specifics of the deal. Pletcher said that it was his understanding that the deal required Velazquez to wear advertisements for the company.
Bailey, the rider of Eddington, will wear advertising for Wrangler, the clothing company. Santos and Solis will wear advertising for Hypnotq, a Kentucky-brewed liqueur.
* Trainer Nick Zito, who will run Birdstone and Royal Assault in the Belmont Stakes, said Blue Grass winner The Cliff's Edge, who missed the Preakness and Belmont due to a bruised foot, would run in the
Grade 2, $150,000 Dwyer Stakes on July 11.
- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty, Karen M. Johnson and Jay Privman