Smarty Jones Will Eat Up the Competition

By Dick Downey
We're two days before the 136th Belmont Stakes, and SMARTY JONES is still eating well. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner hasn't lost his appetite for his oats--and we thus conclude that he hasn't lost his appetite for winning, either. According to Bob Baffert, the toll of the Triple Crown Trail usually manifests itself about a week after the Preakness. There is no sign that the Trail has taken a toll on Smarty Jones.

At, we picked Smarty for the Derby and the Preakness, and we are not about to get off him now--not when he hasn't exhibited signs of regression.

Trainer John Servis said this week, "Let's face it, we've got a bulls-eye on our back.... For Stewart (jockey Elliott), there are going to be some things happening in that race that will be different from any other race."

We believe the difference will be Smarty Jones taking the lead sooner, rather than later--and then the rest of the field will be looking at the bulls-eye in front of them as Smarty Jones and Elliott set the pace around Big Sandy. At that point, the race will be in the hands of Elliott, whom we believe will have a cool and capable head in this situation.

A couple of other colts do stand to go to the front in the early stages. Rock Hard Ten and Eddington come into the race off of fast workouts, and if that is by design, then the intent is to go to the early lead.

We don't see Rock Hard Ten doing that. His long stride is meant for a big oval like Belmont, which is 1 1/2 mile in circumference, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a speedy start. He's not taken the early lead in any of his four starts. If he gets into that long stride as the race unfolds, and if he's ahead of Smarty Jones when he does, Smarty could have problems. But this is an occurrence we cannot project.

If Eddington, who contested the pace in his maiden and allowance wins, gets out of the gate early and well, then Smarty will have a Lion Heart-like target. Guess what will happen next.

PURGE is intended by trainer Todd Pletcher to rate off the pace in the Belmont. We don't think he will turn the tables on Smarty Jones that way, or in any other way. But if he can reserve his speed, he should have enough left in the tank to finish second after passing Eddington and Rock Hard Ten.

The challenge for Purge will be translating his much-improved effort in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes, a one-turn race, into a similar effort in the two-turn Belmont Stakes. Purge has yet to win a race going two turns, but he does appear to be coming into hand at the right time.

We're taking a long-shot for the third position, Nick Zito's ROYAL ASSAULT. This horse is a grinder. He doesn't have the speed to stay close to our top pick, but he appears to have sufficient stamina to stay on when others quit, as evidenced by his closing time when he won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, going the final 5/16 mile in :31.60, or :12.64 per second.

We were wrong when we picked ROCK HARD TEN fourth in the Preakness, but we are going there again today. This horse hasn't won a stakes race of any kind, in contrast to our top three picks. There's no doubt he has innate talent, but he's a head case. Until he can learn how to behave, we can't put much faith in his raw talent. He was backing up pretty badly in the Preakness stretch--not hitting another gear. This is just our opinion, but we believe this horse was primed for a top effort in the Preakness, and that he will regress in the Belmont.

Our final comment is about Master David. We're intrigued by the similarity of his story to that of Medaglia d'Oro. In 2002, Medaglia d'Oro ran very poorly in the Preakness. Shortly after that effort, trainer Bobby Frankel said he would put the horse on the turf. Then he did an about-face and entered him in the Belmont. Medaglia d'Oro finished second at 16-1 odds. After Master David ran a distant third to Purge in the Peter Pan, Frankel said he would probably put the horse on the turf. Now, here he is in the Belmont Stakes.

The difference in the two scenarios is that Medaglia d'Oro was the number one horse in The Downey Profile in 2002; and Master David is no Medaglia d'Oro--not now, at least.

The picks: