Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Being favored will be big battle for Smarty Jones

AP , BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

PHOTO: EPA

Smarty Jones' bold jaunt through the slop at the Kentucky Derby was a frolic compared to the challenge he faces as the overwhelming favorite in the Preakness.

The withdrawal of The Cliff's Edge on Friday left nine horses to compete today against Smarty Jones, who will seek to keep alive his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Smarty Jones has won all seven of his races, highlighted by a come-from-behind victory at Churchill Downs on May 1. Now, in his first performance as Kentucky Derby champion, comes his most difficult test.

"I think this is the toughest race he's had," Smarty Jones trainer John Servis said. "To come out of the biggest race of his life and run in just two weeks against the same horses is difficult enough. Then you throw in the three or four fresh horses and kind of put the bull's-eye on our back, I think he's going to have to step his game up."

Virtually everything went right for Smarty Jones in Kentucky, including a steady rain that made the track a gooey mess.

"Not to take anything away from the Derby horses, but we got a sloppy track which, I don't know if it helped, but it certainly didn't hurt us," Servis said.

Smarty Jones probably won't get a similar dose of luck on Saturday -- the weather forecast in Baltimore calls for temperatures in the high 20s with a 40 percent chance of rain in the late afternoon.

Still, Smarty Jones will have fewer horses to beat this time. Eighteen ran in the Derby, and the Preakness field dwindled to 10 when trainer Nick Zito scratched The Cliff's Edge with a foot injury.

The stone bruise in the horse's front right foot probably occurred when he lost both front shoes in the slop at the Derby, Zito said.

"I'm just hoping that now that we've pulled his shoes, he gets through all this," Zito said. "Sure it's hard. You want to win. But the horse comes first."

Zito's hope of winning a second Preakness now rests on Sir Shackleton, who comes in with a three-race winning streak after capturing the Derby Trial on April 24.

The other newcomers are Little Matth Man, Eddington, Rock Hard Ten and Water Cannon. Lion Heart, Borrego, Song of the Sword and Imperalism will take another crack at Smarty Jones after coming up short in the Derby.

The withdrawal of The Cliff's Edge altered the morning line, making Smarty Jones a 6-5 favorite instead of 8-5. Smarty Jones moves to the No. 6 post, inside of Imperialism, Eddington and Rock Hard Ten.

Although Lion Heart is expected to bolt from the No. 1 post and take the early lead, trainer Patrick Biancone attempted to mask his strategy in an effort to leave a little doubt.

"If I tell you what we will do, everyone will know," he said. "Tonight we decide exactly what we want."

Lion Heart already has the attention of Smarty Jones' jockey, Stewart Elliott.

"We might have to be a little closer to Lion Heart this time," Elliott said. "It's a little shorter distance, and this track favors speed a little more. We will probably have to be watching him."

Elliott must also be concerned about the horses to his right.

"We've got a couple of real tough horses outside us, and they kind of have the same running style that we do," Servis said. "So it might set up a lot like the Derby, where we have some horses outside of us pushing us down to the inside."

Bottom line: Smarty Jones is going to have to run his best race to win.

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