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Servis recalls Smarty's near-Triple Crown

John Servis knows what it's like to have a horse win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then go postward as the undefeated heavy favorite in the Belmont Stakes.

John Servis knows what it's like to have a horse win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then go postward as the undefeated heavy favorite in the Belmont Stakes.

"You've got a bull's-eye on your back," he said this week at Philadelphia Park.

Servis trained the amazing Smarty Jones, who romped home first in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004, boosting his streak of perfection to eight as he sought to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

But Smarty was hard-used repulsing repeated early challengers in the Belmont Stakes, and was caught in the final sixteenth of a mile by the 36-1 Birdstone, failing by one length but eight lengths ahead of the third finisher.

"I knew I had the best horse, but what are you going to do?" Servis recalled from Barn 11, where Smarty also resided.

Servis said he didn't dwell on the negatives and focused primarily on the Derby, which Smarty won by nearly three lengths.

"That was the best time of the whole thing. We got the red roses," he said with a smile.

The "whole thing" involved international recognition and an interest in local horse racing never witnessed before.

Nearly 7,000 fans came out one morning to watch Smarty jog around the track, and Gov. Rendell made a personal visit to the colt's stall.

The chestnut Pennsylvania-bred colt deserves much of the credit for legalizing slots in the state through the interest he sparked, providing salvation for the starving sport through casino revenues.

"I've got more owners, and the [purse] money is good now," Servis said.

He noted watching television one night recently when Edgar Prado, who rode Birdstone and will pilot Casino Drive today, was being interviewed.

"He kept talking about Big Brown this and that and not about his own horse. That's the way it is. He knows that to win the race, he has to beat Big Brown, so he'll have the bull's-eye."

Servis said it was difficult to measure the effect of Big Brown's much-publicized quarter crack in his left front foot, but predicted that if the colt is "100 percent, he'll win."

"If you're not on a deadline, you would probably give him time off," he said, but a horse gets only one chance to capture the Triple Crown.

Smarty Jones' presence can still be felt around Barn 11.

A sign noting his accomplishments hangs outside, and a winner's circle photo adorns the tack-room wall.

More significant, the playful 2-year-old colt returning to the barn after jogging on the muddy track was a yet-unnamed son of Smarty Jones out of Bells Are Ringing.

The dam is a half-sister to Unbridled's Song, the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and an outstanding sire.

This will be Smarty's first crop to hit the races.

"He's my only Smarty, but apparently they're a pretty decent bunch. There aren't a lot of them in the sales, which indicates people are holding onto them," Servis said.

Rick Dutrow, Big Brown's boisterous trainer, recently questioned Servis' strategy of working Smarty Jones over a sealed, sloppy track at Philadelphia Park prior to the Belmont Stakes. Problem is, the work never occurred.

Servis shrugged off Dutrow's misguided criticism and said he would be rooting for Big Brown when he watches the race on television in Bensalem today.

"Racing needs a Triple Crown winner," Servis said.