Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Smarty Jones zeroes in on the Belmont Stakes

AP , NEW YORK

Trainer Nick Zito stepped to the podium during the draw for the Belmont Stakes and all but conceded the race and Triple Crown to Smarty Jones.

"Where do I sign now for second?" he asked.

He's already seemingly settled for second at best.

"To Smarty Jones? Why not? There's nothing wrong being second to a hero," Zito said.

The undefeated Smarty Jones finally arrived at Belmont on Wednesday, just after the little red chestnut colt was made the 2-5 morning-line favorite to defeat eight rivals and give racing its 12th US thoroughbred Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978.

"He's doing great, and I'm sure he'll run well," trainer John Servis said.

The van ride from Philadelphia Park to Belmont, complete with police escort, took about two hours. When the doors opened, Smarty Jones bounded off the van and was led to his stall in Barn 5, the same barn that housed 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

While the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was settling in for Saturday's race, rival trainers were explaining why they decided to run their horses in the first place.

Bobby Frankel, who played spoiler last year when Empire Maker beat Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide in the Belmont, reluctantly entered Master David, a 20-1 long shot. The trainer said jockey Jose Santos helped convince him Master David has a shot.

"He thinks he's got a chance. I don't, but he does," Frankel said. Smarty Jones "looks like 10 lengths the best. He seems like the perfect horse right now."

Master David was 12th in the Kentucky Derby and third in his last start, the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 22.

Todd Pletcher decided to give Purge a third shot at Smarty Jones. The son of Pulpit -- 3-for-3 in races without Smarty Jones in the field -- was the second choice at 5-1. After losses to Smarty in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, Purge came back and won the Peter Pan by 6 3-4 lengths. However, Pletcher didn't sound optimistic.

"When you start trying to analyze the reasons that makes you want to run against Smarty Jones, it's very difficult to find a weakness there," Pletcher said.

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