05/03/2004 12:00AM

Who's afraid of Smarty Jones?

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Trainer John Servis celebrates after Smarty Jones's Derby victory. He will head back to Philadelphia Park to train for the Preakness.

So convincing was Smarty Jones's victory in the 130th Kentucky Derby that only a handful of his beaten rivals and a few newcomers are expected to face him in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 15 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

As of Monday, only Lion Heart, The Cliff's Edge, and Borrego - who finished second, fifth, and 10th in the Derby - were scheduled to head to Baltimore for a rematch with Smarty Jones, who earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory last Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Eddington and Rock Hard Ten, who were denied berths in the Derby because of insufficient earnings, are also pointing to the Preakness, as is Maryland-based Water Cannon, who has won three consecutive stakes, most recently the Federico Tesio. Since 1984, only one colt, Red Bullet in 2000, has won the Preakness without competing in the Derby.

There are several others who could jump in at the last moment, such as Imperialism, the Derby's third-place finisher, but it seems unlikely the Preakness field will come close to the maximum of 14 that can run in the race.

A Pennsylvania-bred colt, Smarty Jones was scheduled to return Tuesday to Philadelphia Park, where he began his career and where he will do most of his training in preparation for the Preakness. His trainer, John Servis, said Smarty Jones will probably not be sent by van to Pimlico until the night before the Preakness.

Smarty Jones became the second favorite to win the Derby in the last five runnings, but his plebeian pedigree, down-to-earth connections, and unbeaten record have put him on the verge of crashing through the clutter of popular culture. Not even Funny Cide, who had a high-profile five-week run during last year's Triple Crown, could make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But Smarty Jones has broken through. Sports Illustrated is putting him on the cover of this week's magazine, which marks the first time a Derby winner has graced SI's cover since Sunny's Halo in the May 16, 1983, edition.

"I think this horse could be a big, big star," said Terry McDonell, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated. "He's handsome. He proves something every time he runs. He's a great story. And his name is hilarious. It's fetching in a way that people want to root for him.

"Funny Cide was different in that he came out of nowhere. He was a great human-interest story, like this horse, but it just didn't seem the same. Funny Cide would have made the cover if he had won the Triple Crown, but Smarty Jones was interesting going in."

If Smarty Jones goes on to add the Preakness and the June 5 Belmont Stakes to his record, he will become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He also will pick up a $5 million bonus from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor. Smarty Jones already earned a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park on Saturday for adding the Kentucky Derby to his victories in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. In just seven starts, he has earned $6,733,155, which puts him sixth on the all-time North American earnings list.

Servis said that Smarty Jones "came out of the race so well." Servis was not sure if he would work Smarty Jones in the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness, but if Smarty Jones becomes as aggressive as he was in the week leading up to the Derby, Servis might have to give him something to take the edge off.

"He loves to train and trains hard and, in two weeks' time, I don't think there's a lot to be done," Servis said.

Others plot trip to Maryland

Lion Heart returned Saturday night to Keeneland, where he has been based since before the April 10 Blue Grass Stakes, and jogged Monday. He is scheduled to fly to Baltimore on May 12.

Also scheduled to fly to Maryland from Kentucky on May 12 are Borrego and Rock Hard Ten, who will remain at Churchill Downs for the next week. Rock Hard Ten was scheduled to work Monday, but his drill was postponed one day because of an off track, trainer Jason Orman said.

The Cliff's Edge will travel to Pimlico on May 10, according to trainer Nick Zito, who said The Cliff's Edge lost both of his front shoes in the mud at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Stablemate Birdstone, who was eighth, also lost a front shoe.

Eddington will travel by van to Pimlico from Belmont Park on May 12. He worked six furlongs in 1:12.68 Saturday over Belmont's main track, and will work again this weekend. He was excluded from the Derby because of insufficient earnings, but his trainer, Mark Hennig, said there were two sides to that development.

"Obviously the fact we didn't get to run was disappointing, but something to look forward to is we enter the Preakness on five weeks' rest instead of two," Hennig said.

"I don't think anybody in this day and age likes running back in two weeks."

Derby was rough experience for some

Imperialism was scheduled to fly back to California on Wednesday and will only go to the Preakness "as a last-minute deal," said trainer Kristin Mulhall on Monday. Mulhall said stablemate Cheiron, who won the recent Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park, would not go to the Preakness.

"Honestly, I don't think Smarty Jones is beatable," she said of the Preakness.

Limehouse, who finished fourth in the Derby, will only run in the Preakness if there are significant defections between now and next Wednesday, when entries are taken. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Kentucky Oaks winner Ashado would remain with fillies for now and would be pointed to the June 4 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park.

As with Limehouse, Derby also-rans Friends Lake (15th), Master David (12th), Read the Footnotes (seventh), Song of the Sword (11th), and Tapit (ninth) also are unlikely for the Preakness unless a major defection occurs.

"We're battered, bashed, and bruised, but we'll live to fight another day," said Michael Dickinson, who trains Tapit. "I trained him to breeze, not swim."

Dickinson said the Belmont was a more likely next spot for Tapit.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he was considering Bornwithit and Preachinatthebar for the Preakness, but would not commit definitively to either colt.

Action This Day, who finished sixth in the Derby, is heading back to California and could be a candidate for the Belmont, trainer Richard Mandella said. Stablemate Minister Eric, who was 16th, will need throat surgery.

"He choked pretty bad," Mandella said. "He almost fainted after the race."

Pro Prado (13th) will point for summer stakes at Churchill Downs. Castledale (14th) is going back to California and will be freshened, trainer Jeff Mullins said. Quintons Gold Rush, who was eased when finishing 18th and last, will be freshened at co-owner Satish Sanan's farm in Florida.

- additional reporting by David Grening