After Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Smarty Jones returned from a gallop over the sloppy Churchill Downs track Friday morning, trainer John Servis said "he is doing fantastic. I wish the race were tomorrow."
While Servis will have to wait a week for the son of Elusive Quality
to run in the May 1 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), the colt will have his first serious work over the track on Saturday since his arrival from Keeneland on Thursday.
On a rain-soaked backstretch Friday in which no Derby contenders worked, Servis' morning press conference provided the only real news of the day.
Servis said taking 'Smarty' to Keeneland following the April 10 Arkansas Derby afforded the colt a chance to relax before going on the Churchill and the activity associated with the Derby. "We had planned from the very beginning to stay away until yesterday. It worked out well. He chilled out at Keeneland. I would go by the barn every afternoon and he would be asleep."
A Pennsylvania homebred racing for Someday Farm, Smarty Jones could win a $5-million bonus from Oaklawn Park if he wins the Derby. Servis said that when he discussed sending Smarty Jones to Arkansas with owners Roy and Pat Chapman, he was unaware of the bonus being offered by Oaklawn Park as part of its Centennial celebration. The bonus will be awarded to any horse winning Oaklawn Park's Kentucky Derby prep races and the Derby. Smarty Jones has won all six of his career starts and earned $878,355.
"I didn't know anything about the bonus," Servis said. "He was immature and had only run twice, so I told the Chapmans the easiest route to take would be Arkansas."
Although he has never started a horse in the Derby, Servis said he first realized Smarty Jones had classic potential after the colt won his first two starts by 7 3/4 lengths and 15 lengths and then won the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct. "I had never had a Derby horse so it was hard for me to say 'This is a Derby horse'. But in the Count Fleet, he just kind of took off. He just steadily drew away."
Considering his colt's undefeated record, Servis said he did not think it unusual that Smarty Jones would be considered the probable Derby favorite. He noted, however, that the colt has only one graded stakes victory -- the Arkansas Derby -- and that he believes there are eight to nine contenders who could emerge victorious May 1. In addition to Smarty Jones, Servis said he believed Tapit and The Cliff's Edge would be vying for Derby favoritism and are the horses to beat.
While all was going well for the Smarty Jones camp on the track, there were some off the track concern Friday morning when Servis could not locate the colt's official Kentucky Derby saddle cloth. Servis said the item might have been taken from the barn overnight, but the trainer was hopeful that the stable's night watchman, who was still asleep Friday morning, had put the saddle cloth away for safekeeping. At any rate, Churchill spokesman John Asher said a replacement saddle cloth had been ordered.