Fresh off his victory in the Kentucky Derby, trainer John Servis predicted the Preakness Stakes would be the toughest race of Smarty Jones's life. He won by 11 1/2 lengths, the widest margin of victory in 129 runnings of the historic race.
By contrast, Servis has displayed serene confidence heading into the Belmont Stakes on June 5, and with good reason. Unless Preakness runner-up Rock Hard Ten can find a way to make up those 11 1/2 lengths, or Maryland trainer Michael Dickinson was right, and Tapit didn't show his best stuff in the slop at Churchill Downs, there's not much left to worry about except arrangements for Smarty Jones's parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia.
Besides Rock Hard Ten and Tapit, Smarty Jones's Belmont challengers look to be Preakness third-place finisher Eddington; Philadelphia Park-based Tap Dancer, a perennial also-ran in stakes races; Royal Assault, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard in much slower time than Smarty Jones ran that day, and possibly The Cliff's Edge, Birdstone and Mustanfar.
Purge, who throttled a strong field in fast time Saturday in the Grade II $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, is a long shot possibility, mostly because Smarty Jones has already crushed him twice this year in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.
"He might be the second-best 3-year-old in training," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Purge. "There are a lot of spots out there, and we don't want to come back too soon in the Belmont."
With the competition looking light, Smarty Jones stands to join the immortal Seattle Slew as the only other undefeated winner of the Triple Crown, as well as the first to sweep the series since Affirmed in 1978.
Entries for the Belmont must be in June 2 before the post position draw that begins at 9:30 a.m.
Servis appears to have finalized plans for Smarty Jones, penciling in a seven-furlong work Friday at Philadelphia Park with regular jockey Stewart Elliott and then shipping the horse to New York the day of the draw.
"That could change, but that's the way it is right now," the trainer said yesterday. "Right now, it probably looks like I'm going to work him seven furlongs, a slow seven furlongs for him. I don't want him too sharp. The big thing with him is trying to take a little bit of the edge off and trying to keep him happy."
A Stable Industry
Servis's wife, Sherry Servis, who manages the business side of his operation, said sales from Smarty Jones hats, shirts and photos have raised more than $100,000, all of which goes toward the Backstretch Relief Fund, which provides financial aide for grooms, hot walkers and others who live full time at the racetrack. . . .
Belmont Park will sell reserved bleacher seats at the top of the stretch for the Belmont Stakes today between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at (516) 488-6000. Wednesday, any remaining tickets will be sold on a cash-only basis at the racetrack.