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BELMONT STAKES NOTEBOOK: PAPARAZZI TEST PASSED.

Byline: Kevin Modesti Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. - Smarty Jones put his hard-earned cool on display Thursday morning amid a paparazzi crush that seemed to unnerve other horses and even his own trainer.

Shortly after 6 a.m., the Triple Crown hopeful had finished his first tour of the big Belmont Park oval and was walking back to barn 5 when some of the approximately 50 cameramen inadvertently blocked his path. Exercise rider Pete Van Trump brought Smarty Jones to a halt. Trainer John Servis did the same with his pony Butterscotch.

``You get this horse hurt, you're not going to get no pictures,'' the usually well-spoken Servis snapped as the journalists scooted clear.

The thing is while an unaffiliated racehorse nearby propped anxiously amid the momentary commotion, the horse at the center of the media storm stood calmly before walking on.

Later, Servis said Smarty Jones came by his poise suddenly last winter, and the trainer theorized that the undefeated colt learned a painful lesson when he reared during a starting-gate schooling session as a 2-year-old and fractured his skull.

``He's matured so much,'' Servis said.

``In January, believe me, there would have been some bodies laying out there (after an incident like Thursday morning's). He's settled. It's really something.

``Since the accident (at 2), he takes very good care of himself. He doesn't get upset about anything. He's very cool.''

The crowd of cameramen and reporters at the outside rail while Smarty Jones was on the track seemed to frighten other horses. One rider patted her mount's neck and said, ``It's only people.''

Smarty Jones never batted an eye.

That quality can only help Saturday when Smarty Jones faces eight opponents in the Belmont Stakes, expected to draw a crowd larger than the race-record 103,222 that watched Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid come up short in 2003.

The 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes starts in front of the grandstand and Smarty Jones, who drew the No. 9 post position, will be the closest to the fans as the horses enter the starting gate.

--On solid footing: Smarty Jones' nearly half-hour excursion out of the barn, for his first tour of the nation's largest racetrack, was over before a light rain began Thursday morning.

He galloped slowly once around the oval nicknamed ``Big Sandy,'' Servis and his pony clinging to his left flank the whole way.

``The horse went great this morning,'' Servis said. ``Everything's right on schedule. He seemed to really like (the running surface). He bounced over it, kind of like he did at Churchill Downs (before winning the Kentucky Derby).''

Servis said Smarty Jones' final round of preparation for the Belmont this morning would consist of another gallop and a get-acquainted visit to the starting gate.

--The future: Although Servis and owners Roy and Patricia Chapman have tried to avoid looking beyond the next race in Smarty Jones' rise to stardom, the trainer did address questions about tentative plans if all goes well Saturday.

After a rest, Smarty Jones' next start could come in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey in August or the Pennsylvania Derby at his home track Philadelphia Park on Labor Day.

Servis said plans are to continue racing Smarty Jones as a 4-year-old in 2005 even though a Triple Crown would make him worth an immediate fortune at stud.

Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox, Count Fleet and Secretariat were retired as 3-year-olds. The other eight raced on, including Citation, competing at 6, and Assault, active at 7.

--Count the ways: Rarely does a horse go into a race with as big an edge in accomplishment as Smarty Jones enjoys in the Belmont.

--He has won all eight of his races, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. None of his opponents has ever won more than two in a row.

--He has earned $7,413,155 ($2,413,155 in race purses plus Oaklawn Park's $5 million bonus for winning the Arkansas and Kentucky derbies). His opponents have earned a combined $1,823,463.

--He has received Beyer speed figures of 108, 107, 107 and 118 for his past four victories (higher is better and a point equals about half a length in a middle-distance race). Among his opponents, only Purge has merited a Beyer rating higher than 103 - he received a 108 for his Peter Pan Stakes victory last month.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 4, 2004
Words:732
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