Smarty Jones may have gone off as the favorite at the Kentucky
Derby, but many handicappers still had doubts about his prospects
in the race. Skeptics cited his pedigree, which, though very
classy, didn't seem suited for the mile-and-a-quarter distance.
Further, Smarty's trainer, John Servis, had avoided Florida and
California, choosing instead to beat up on lesser competition in
Arkansas. Was his horse really going to be able to handle 17 of
the country's best 3-year-olds at a distance that might be beyond
his reach? "All I know is, he ran the last eighth of a mile in
the [1 1/8-mile] Arkansas Derby in 12 and a fraction," says
Oaklawn Park owner C.J. Cella. "I was always taught that any
horse that could do that going around two turns was a champion."
At the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 15, Smarty Jones will most
likely be joined by fellow Derby starters Lion Heart (who was
second) and The Cliff's Edge (fifth). Chief among the race's new
shooters will be Rock Hard Ten, who ran second (but was DQ'd to
third) in last month's Santa Anita Derby. He missed the Run for
the Roses because he didn't have enough graded stakes winnings.
Also absent was Eddington, a talented stalker who many experts
believe has yet to run his best race. However, history has not
been kind to horses who skip the Derby; only six have won at
Pimlico in the past 52 years.
A victory at the Preakness would put Smarty Jones in line to win
the first Triple Crown since 1978 (nine horses since then have
won the first two legs but failed in the Belmont). His tactical
speed and stalking style would appear to suit the Belmont
perfectly, yet because few races are run at the race's marathon
mile and a half, predicting his prospects for that test is
impossible. But this much is certain: It's time to take Smarty
Jones seriously. --Mark Beech