Rivals nuts to race
against Smarty in Belmont

May 25, 2004 2:07 AM

David Hofmans is a Triple Crown spoiler, which makes him well-qualified to comment on Smarty Jones in his bid to win the Triple Crown.

Barring something completely unforeseen, the 61-year-old trainer thinks Smarty Jones has what it takes to win the 136th Belmont Stakes on June 5 and become the second undefeated Triple Crown winner, the 12th overall, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

"I think he’s a very talented horse, a very good horse," said Hofmans, who saddled Touch Gold to win the 1997 Belmont by three-quarters of a length under Chris McCarron, preventing Silver Charm from capturing racing’s most elusive prize.

"Smarty Jones has everything. He has intelligence, speed, stamina and it looks like he has a trainer (John Servis) who stays out of his way and lets the horse do what he needs to do."

And what Smarty Jones does is win. That’s all he’s done in his eight-race career.

By winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality has turned even the world beyond racing on its ear and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If he wins the Triple Crown, he’ll surpass Man o’ War, Seabiscuit and Secretariat as racing’s most recognizable hero, because there were no computers, no e-mail, no e-bay, 30 years ago. Smarty Jones is a universal story, the focus of which will unfold at Belmont Park in Elmont (N.Y.) in less than two weeks.

Smarty Jones was the first thoroughbred in more than two decades to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated after winning the Derby, shortly thereafter obliterating the magazine’s so-called jinx when he won the Preakness by a record 11 ½ lengths.

He will be 1-2 or less to win the Belmont at a mile and a half, but can he succeed where the last nine winners of the first two jewels of the Triple Crown have failed?

"I think so," Hofmans said. "With his temperament and his running style and the way they’re training him, I think it will work out just right for him.

"He doesn’t have to have the lead, or he can go on an easy lead and have enough left. It looks to me like he’s rateable and very versatile and that’s a big advantage."

Stewart Elliott, who has ridden Smarty Jones in each of his races, will be making his debut on the massive Belmont oval, but that shouldn’t be a detriment to the 39-year-old jockey, who has plied his trade during most of his career on racing’s leaky roof circuit.

Elliott was riding in his first Run for the Roses but performed flawlessly, drawing rave reviews. Said Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey as an analyst for NBC-TV: "You’d have thought he rode in this race a thousand times."

Not that Servis has to educate Elliott any further on Smarty Jones in order to win the Belmont. Even Hofmans kept it simple for McCarron when he rode Touch Gold.

"I just told him the horse would be real sharp and be careful he’s not on the lead, that’s all," Hofmans recalled.

"But Smarty Jones could be on the lead. Of course, we don’t know who’s going yet and what kind of pace there will be."

While Hofmans was in the vast majority in agreeing that Smarty Jones would win the Belmont, the Los Angeles native had reservations that racing would reap a positive windfall through the spike in publicity.

"I don’t know," Hofmans said. "They say that all the time and it turns out to be a big deal for one day, but after that, we’re back scrambling.

"The question as to whether a Triple Crown winner will help racing has been asked every time we get a horse that wins the first two legs.

"So Smarty Jones has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Big deal. But don’t get me wrong. I hope he wins the Triple Crown and we get some more interest in our game, because we really need it. "

At the moment, only Pick Six carryovers seem to generate more interest in racing than Smarty Jones, so perhaps Hofmans is right.

Despite his overwhelming victories in the Derby and the Preakness, about six rivals are in prospect to face Smarty Jones in the Belmont. Jeff Mullins thinks they’re all nuts.

"I think they’re fooling themselves," said Mullins, a leading trainer in Southern California who saddled Castledale to a 30-1 upset win in the Santa Anita Derby before the Irish-bred colt fell victim to Smarty Jones by finishing up the track in the Run for the Roses.

"Smarty Jones is a freak. Why wouldn’t he (win the Triple Crown)? Any horse that can win two races like that without a work in between, who’s going to outrun him? The only way he can lose is if he falls down."

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