Trainer John Servis is not worried about Smarty Jones getting the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) distance of 1 1/2 miles. But just a few months ago he was worried about the colt going 1 1/4 miles.
Of course we know now that Smarty Jones can handle 1 1/4 miles because he won the May 1 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at that distance before taking the May 15 Preakness (gr. I) at 1 31/6 miles.
"When we were at Oaklawn Park this winter, there was more than one day we came off the track and I just shook my head," Servis said Friday morning outside Barn 5 on the Belmont Park backstretch. "I didn't think we would ever get him to learn to relax."
But, like many horses, Smarty Jones just needed time to mature, and the ability to rate and relax came with that maturity.
"The more we trained in Arkansas, the more he learned to settle," Servis said. "In the (Kentucky) Derby, he took the next step. Stewart (jockey Stewart Elliott) came off the track and said he could have taken him back to last."
Servis learned a great deal about the son of Elusive Quality
at Oaklawn. In his first start at the Hot Springs, Ark., track, the Feb. 28 Southwest Stakes, Roy and Pat Chapman's Smarty Jones chased solid fractions and hung on to win by three-quarters of a length.
"That race told me he had the heart and the willingness to win," the trainer said. But as he stood at Belmont with a chance to saddle a Triple Crown winner, Servis said that was the furthest thing from his mind during those months at Oaklawn.
"The Triple Crown wasn't in the game plan," Servis said. "We dreamt about the Derby, not the Triple Crown."
"We hoped he could get a mile and a quarter; I'm not worried at all about him getting a mile and a half."