Smarty Jones, with owner Patricia Chapman.

Smarty Jones, with owner Patricia Chapman.

Jeff Coady/Coady

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Along Came Jones

The moment of truth is at hand, as several Kentucky Derby (gr. I) scenarios are played out over the next couple of days. At Churchill Downs, the biggest activity Friday morning was trying to dodge the rain. But the miserable weather was brightened momentarily by the presence of the unbeaten Smarty Jones.

At 3 p.m. on Thursday, Smarty Jones arrived at Churchill, charging off the van, as if he were in a hurry to get somewhere. "He knows something big is in store," trainer John Servis said. "We just have to keep him low-keyed for seven more days."

Smarty Jones took up residence in Barn 42, several stalls down from Imperialism, which means the Derby's two Cinderella stories are practically side by side. In the repose of a lazy Thursday afternoon, it was difficult to try to imagine the hordes of media that will be congregating outside this barn over the next week. Although only at Churchill for several days, Imperialism's trainer, Kristin Mulhall, has captivated mainstream America to the point where NBC Nightly News has already come and gone, taping a feature on the 21-year-old that will next on Saturday. CNN has also made an early appearance.

And how popular is the Pennsylvania-bred Smarty Jones? On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission officially proclaimed Saturday, May 1 "Smarty Jones Day" at the state's racetracks. Governor Edward G. Rendell will make it official statewide in the next several days.

Another indication of Smarty Jones' popularity was the apparent theft overnight of the colt's Derby saddle cloth, which Servis had left hanging over the wall of the barn. If it doesn't show up around the barn, start checking E-bay. Another hot commodity were the "Smarty Jones" caps that were snatched up immediately after being shipped to Servis at Keeneland.

"I'm going to enjoy the experience," Servis said, "but my main objective is to get the job done, and that's what we're focusing on. When I'm done with my morning chorses, I'll take time out to do interviews, and some sightseeing, and have some fun. He's doing great, and I feel like I'm coming with a loaded gun. I just hope we get a little luck."

Smarty Jones, wearing Servis' blue saddle cloth, went out for some light exercise over the sloppy track this morning at 6:45, galloping with Servis alongside on the pony. The son of Elusive Quality catches your eye. He is a powerfully built colt, draped in beautiful liver chestnut coat, and he has an attractive, alert head that is full of character. Folks are going to love him, especially after they read the soap opera script that comes with him.

As an example of his character, Servis said he's kicked about 10 people, but has never hurt anyone. "He kicks just enough to let you know you've been kicked," Servis said. "You're not even aware of it, then suddenly realize, 'Oh my gosh, that horse just kicked me.'"

Smarty will have his final Derby work on Saturday.

So, here is where we stand at the present time. Song of the Sword is in the top 20 with the defection of Preachinatthebar. Pro Prado could be the next horse to get in if Sinister G, who has been battling a cough, is withdrawn. Right behind Pro Prado is Eddington, which is making life uneasy for Wimbledon's trainer Bob Baffert, who has named Jerry Bailey to ride Wimbledon. But Eddington is Bailey first choice, and if the big chestnut should get in the field before entry day, Baffert will have to do some last-minute shopping for a rider. That leaves Bailey's agent, Ron Anderson, unsure of who he'll be on. Let's just say that Wednesday morning could be a frantic one for Anderson and Baffert if Eddington is sitting one spot from making the field and someone drops out.

Meanwhile, Rock Hard Ten's trainer, Jason Orman, and the colt's owners will have some serious thinking to do Saturday morning. Rock Hard Ten is entered in the Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III). Orman said, regardless if he wins, he will not run back a week later in the Derby. So, they will have to decide whether to run tomorrow and use the race as a prep for the Preakness, or scratch and gamble that three horses will defect before Wednesday. If the horse doesn't get in, then they'll train him up to the Preakness.

Rock Hard Ten drew a perfect post (7) for the seven-horse Derby Trial. The question is, how great a temptation will there be to run in the Derby if the towering son of Kris S. coasts to an easy victory? Orman said the owners do not want to do it, but we'll just have to wait and see how this one plays out.

When Friends Lake stepped off the van on Wednesday, he looked a bit tucked up, which is not uncommon after a long trip. It's how they look the day or two afterward that counts. Yesterday, the son of A.P. looked much better, and today he looked like a completely different horse as he walked the shed under tack. With the track in horrible condition after the first wave of horses following the break, trainer John Kimmel decided to cancel his gallop, and walked him instead. The colt has really filled out in the right places, and his coat was shimmering. He is also quite a character, who has a mind of his own. If he is as fit as Kimmel insists he is, then he very well could rewrite the history books and win the Derby off a seven-week layoff, and do it a pretty good price for a Florida Derby (gr. I) winner.

Speaking of history, remember the words of Oscar Wilde, who said, "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

Well, in this year's Derby, 13 of the 20 current starters will have to do just that. The following is some of the history they will have to rewrite: Action This Day (BC Juvenile winner, Juvenile champion, worse than fourth in previous start); Borrego (never won a stakes); Song of the Sword (never won a stakes, did not race at 2); Castledale and Lion Heart (only two starts at 3); Tapit (only four career starts, two starts at 3); Friends Lake and Read the Footnotes (seven-week layoff); Birdstone (six-week layoff and worse than fourth in previous start); Wimbledon, St Averil, and Sinister G (worse than fourth in previous start); Minister Eric (never run 1 1/8 miles, non stakes winner, did not run in a stakes at 3).

That leaves The Cliff's Edge, Smarty Jones, Imperialism, Master David, Quintons Gold Rush, Limehouse, and Pollard's Vision as the only horses with no history to overcome.

Michael Dickinson has decided to delay Tapit's arrival until Wednesday, choosing to van up to New York and catch the final Tex Sutton flight to Louisville rather than van from Maryland to Louisville on Tuesday.

The Cliff's Edge had a much stronger gallop today than he did yesterday. Trainer Nick Zito will look to give the son of Gulch nothing more than a maintenance work Sunday or Monday following his sharp :59 3/5 drill last Monday.

Borrego continues to impress, both physically and on the track, and definitely is one of the horses who appears to be thriving here. He skipped over the slop this morning, and again was feeling good.

Trainer Dick Mandella said Actiion This Day came out of yesterday's work in excellent shape. The colt's back is fine, and he's on go for Derby Day. Stablemate Halfbridled, who worked in company with Action This Day, was out for an early gallop today. Mandella said he had to gallop her, even though it was the day after a work, because she has a tendency to tie up (cramp up) and needs to be exercised.

Read the Footnotes was scheduled to arrive from Palm Meadows training center early this afternoon.