Servis Receives TPA's Big Sport Award

Trainer John Servis, who had the ride of a lifetime last spring with Smarty Jones , received the Big Sport of Turfdom award from the Turf Publicists of America Monday afternoon in Beverly Hills, Calif. The award ceremony, held during a luncheon at Mastro's Steakhouse, was attended by more than 100 people.

Servis was joined by his family and Patricia Chapman, who along with her husband, Roy, owned Smarty Jones. Team Smarty is in Beverly Hills for the Eclipse Awards that will be presented this evening at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Smarty Jones is a likely winner in the 3-year-old male category over fellow finalists Birdstone  and Kitten's Joy and a contender for Horse of the Year honors.

Servis was the 39th recipient of the Big Sport of Turfdom award. Last year's winner was Sackatoga Stable, owners of Funny Cide. The list of past winners is a "Who's Who" of Thoroughbred racing and some of the other trainers to have won include Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, Woody Stephens, Laz Barrera, and John Nerud.

The award was presented by John Lee, president of the TPA and Servis was introduced by Todd Schrupp of TVG who noted that "the story that defined 2004 was Smarty Jones: the horse, the connections, the Chapmans, and John Servis."

Prior to his acceptance speech, a special film was presented that took Servis from his youth at Charles Town Racetrack through the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) wins by Smarty Jones and the near Triple Crown miss before 120,000-plus at Belmont Park. The film, which focused on Servis' willingness to deal with the scrutiny of the media during the Triple Crown, was put together by the Keeneland television department headed by G.D. Hieronymus, a TPA vice president.

"I'd like to thank God for giving us Smarty Jones," Servis said in his opening remarks. "I'd like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Chapman and the Chapman family for giving me this opportunity. It was something I'd dreamt about my whole life and never expected. I'd like to thank my family; my mom and dad for giving me the support and the insight to go out and try to capture my dreams. I'd like to thank my two sons for making this year all the more exiting than it was.

"And I'd like to thank my lovely wife (Sherri) for, not only the support and the backing for the last 23 years, but the timeless hours that she put in on the telephone and Internet setting up interviews and answering fan mail," he said. "I know I'm getting this award, but I know I couldn't have done this without her.

"Two days before the Arkansas Derby, I had a writer come to me and he said, 'Are you ready for this.' I said 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'You realize that if this horse wins the Arkansas Derby, outside the war, you guys are going to be the biggest story in the country.' I just blew it off. The more I started thinking about it, and after he won the Arkansas Derby, I started to realize that there was a lot to this story. People started to really latch on to it and it became very exciting.

"We told the story: Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, my wife and I, (jockey) Stewart (Elliott)," Servis said. "You guys are the ones that put it on paper and made everyone enjoy the story."

Servis said he took a look at past recipients of the "Big Sport" award and was "overwhelmed" and was "honored to be part of the list."

In an impromptu question and answer session with Schrupp following his remarks, Servis was asked that during the Triple Crown run if had any strange incidents or requests from the media or from fans.

"Back at Philly (Park), we had a call at the barn one morning, and this guy calls up and says "I'd like to rent Smarty Jones,'" Servis said. " I said 'Really?' And he said, 'I'm getting ready to get married and I wanted him to pull the cart for me and my wife.' I said 'That might be a pretty wealthy proposition.' He said, 'Well, I've got a lot of money.'"

He was also asked if the Triple Crown gave him a different perspective on his profession.

"I was always one of those guys who could never really understand how the Nick Zitos and Bob Bafferts and Wayne Lukases got so wrapped up in the Triple Crown," he said. "I loved it and all, but we always had so much else going on. Now that I've been there...I can't wait to get back."