John Servis is a longtime Philadelphia Flyers fan, and he "wasn't happy" to see his hockey team eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday night. Although he now has Philly's number one sports franchise in Smarty Jones, and the almost-fanatical support of the city and all of Pennsylvania, Servis said he's still not feeling any added pressure.
"I'm just trying to concentrate on what's goin' on in Barn 11," he said. "We got a job to do and we're gonna try to get it done."
The City of Brotherly Love has been snake-bitten in recent years, with the Eagles and Flyers coming close, and the Phillies and 76ers struggling to become championship contenders. But Servis does not equate the failure of those teams to win a championship with Smarty Jones' attempt to sweep the Visa Triple Crown.
"Quite frankly, I think we already did (win the championship)," Servis said. "When we won the Derby, to me that's the championship, and the Triple Crown is icing on the cake. If we get that done, then that's an added dimension. Just the fact that we won the Kentucky Derby, that was the main goal since early January. That was the big race for us."
As for the pressure, Servis said, "The pressure race was the Arkansas Derby. I don't feel like we have America riding on our backs for the Triple Crown. I know what my horse is capable of, and when we go there, if he runs his best race he's gonna be tough. If we get beat we get beat, that's part of the business."
Smarty Jones was out for a mile and three-quarter gallop on this hot and humid morning. Servis said he'll stretch him out to two two miles on Tuesday, then gear back down Wednesday and Thursday to prepare him for his scheduled seven-furlong work on Friday with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard.
As of now, the plan calls for Smarty Jones to ship to Belmont Park a week from Wednesday.
"That could change, but that's the way it is right now," Servis said. "I stretched his gallop out a little more today, and he'll gallop two miles tomorrow, and then I'll give him two mile and a half days on Wednesday and Thursday. I might even gallop him with the pony on Thursday. I don't want him too sharp for the work. Right now, it looks like I'm going to work him a slow seven furlongs...for him. I don't want him going out there and working in :58 and then trying to run off the first part of the race. Right now, the big thing with him is just trying to get a little bit of the edge off and keep him happy. I'm liking what I'm seeing. He didn't kick any of the feed tubs off the wall this morning, so that tells me he's not full of himself."
Servis is not concerned about running Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) without a race or a work over the track.
"This horse doesn't need to take a racetrack with him," he said. "Quite frankly, the Pimlico track that whole week was really out of character for that racetrack. It was a deep, closer-favoring surface, which is unusual for Pimlico. He's doing so good here, I'm just staying until Wednesday."
Servis also said the mile and a half distance of the Belmont is not a concern, based on what he's seen so far being around Smarty Jones every day. "Again, as I've been saying, I haven't been able to get to the bottom of this horse, so I don't know how far he'll go. Personally, I don't think there'll be a problem with it. I didn't see a problem with the mile and a quarter back in February when everyone thought he wouldn't go over a mile."
In other Belmont news, Eddington, third in the Preakness (gr. I), turned in a sharp half-mile work in :46 2/5 this morning with Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. aboard. Eddington has now finished third in three straight races the Gotham (gr. III), Wood Memorial (gr. I), and Preakness."It was a little quicker than we wanted, but we did want something quick," trainer Mark Hennig said. "I wanted to make sure he didn't get too relaxed. I got him in :22 4/5 for his last quarter, so we'll look to move forward off this. He had his ears laid back and he wasn't looking around. He was really focused today. We've got to make up 13 lengths on Smarty Jones, but it's a little easier making it up going a mile and a half than it is going a mile and three sixteenths."Also working for the Belmont this morning was Sir Barton (gr. III) winner Royal Assault, who breezed six furlongs in 1:16 for trainer Nick Zito.Todd Pletcher, trainer of Peter Pan (gr. II) winner Purge, said there is only a 10% chance that the son of Pulpit will run in the Belmont."He's doing fantastic," Pletcher said. "He might be the second-best 3-year-old in training. "We went to Oaklawn behind schedule and wound up facing Smarty Jones on his home court and things didn't work out. There are a lot of spots out there and we don't want to come back too soon in the Belmont."
If Purge does not compete in the Belmont, he could start next in the $150,000 Dwyer (gr. II) at a mile and a sixteenth on July 11, which could serve as a prep for the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Aug. 7 and the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga on Aug. 28.