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Derby ‘smarty’ money may be on Jones

Apr 13, 2004 3:14 AM

If he keeps going, Smarty Jones could make Seattle Slew look like a bargain.

After winning the Arkansas Derby by a decisive 1 1/2 lengths to remain unbeaten in six races, Smarty Jones could join the late Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. All Smarty Jones has to do is win the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, like Slew did in 1977.

If nothing else, after the smoke cleared Saturday in the last three major preps to the Kentucky Derby on May 1 ”” the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby ”” the picture for the 130th Run for the Roses came into focus, albeit still a bit blurry.

Smarty Jones, who began his career at a no-frills track called Philadelphia Park, deserves to be the post time favorite, despite the fact that he is a homebred colt by Elusive Quality and thus cost less than Seattle Slew, who was a $17,500 yearling. Smarty Jones would be the first undefeated horse to start in the Derby since Trippi in 2000 and the 18th overall. Four have won: the filly Regret in 1915, Morvich in 1922, Majestic Prince in 1969 and Seattle Slew.

Smarty Jones would make further history with a victory. He would be only the second Pennsylvania-bred to win. Lil E. Tee was the first in 1992.

Certain to receive strong mutuel support in the Derby will be Tapit, winner of the Wood by a half-length over the Bobby Frankel-trained Master David, and Eddington, who finished a nose behind Master David. The Cliff’s Edge, who wore down 9-10 favorite Lion Heart to win the Blue Grass by a half-length, will be a relatively generous price for Nick Zito fans.

On the Derby fence at press time were Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale and Santa Anita Derby favorite St Averil, who ran the worse race of his brief career, finishing sixth as the 2-1 choice.

If you think final time can separate the winners of the Wood, the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby and the Santa Anita Derby, think again. Each race at 11/8 miles was run in 1:49 and change.

But it would come as no shock should Master David be the Derby favorite. Call it the Frankel Factor.

Horses like Rock Hard Ten could be on the outside looking in on Derby day. A disqualification from second to third in the Santa Anita Derby cost Rock Hard Ten $60,000 in graded purse money and a possible start in the Derby, which is expected to have a full field of 20.

"The picture is pretty clouded," said trainer Ron Ellis, who saddled Atswhatimtalknbout to a fourth-place finish in last year’s Derby. "All the major preps seem to be won by 40-1 shots. That’s highly unusual in these bigger races."

If the colts can’t sort themselves out, would an exceptional filly have a chance in the Derby?

"Their quality is unbelievably high this year, although some are tailing off, like Halfbridled," Ellis said. "The Ashland winner (Madcap Escapade) doesn’t look like she can go a mile and an eighth. The fillies are a talented group but I don’t think there’s anybody out there good enough to beat the colts."

Not even Silent Sighs, the California-bred filly who handed Halfbridled her first defeat in the Santa Anita Oaks?

No, not even Silent Sighs. Even Julio Canani, the colorful character who trains Silent Sighs, can’t see her beating colts in the Kentucky Derby.

"I like my filly," he said, "but I’m not on drugs."

THE HOMESTRETCH: Saturday’s best post-race quote came from jockey Mike Luzzi, who finished 11th and last, beaten nearly 30 lengths, in the Wood. "I had a front-row seat," he said. "I was able to watch the whole race from where we were at. Clearly, we were overmatched. We were just hoping to take a shot and get a check.". . . Trainer Jack Carava on what bettors can expect from horses moving from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park, which opens April 21: "I think trainers who have their horses based at Santa Anita are at a bit of a disadvantage racing at Hollywood because that track is a little deeper. First-time starters and horses that haven’t run in a while might have trouble. But after they get a race over Hollywood’s track, they should be OK."

. . . Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on Azeri, who resumed her career under D. Wayne Lukas by winning the Apple Blossom Handicap for the third consecutive year: "It’s nice to see the mare come back and run like that. Laura (former trainer Laura de Seroux) did a tremendous job when she had her and Wayne did a tremendous job getting her ready to win the Apple Blossom." . . . Bobby Frankel on Puerto Rican riding sensation Javier Santaigo: "He rides good. He’s ridden a few horses for me, he’s won a few races, he doesn’t get in their way and he hasn’t done anything wrong." Sure, Bobby, but give him time . . . Another newcomer from Puerto Rico, Omar Figueroa, will ride at Hollywood. The 19-year-old had been riding in the Bay Area and recently recovered from a broken collarbone . . . And this e-mail from Henry in Alaska: "Whether Kristin Mulhall knows it or not there are a few little girls following her and Imperialism and their quest for gold. You never know, it could become an epidemic. It is a great story." Signed, "A Dad in Alaska with an 11-year-old daughter following Kristin’s quest," with this P.S., "Thanks for the article. Four inches of snow blowing here, no spring in sight." Yeah, Henry, but the real estate prices are a lot lower than Southern California.