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He Will Join the Crowd After Striking Out Twice

June 05, 2004|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Having tried to beat Smarty Jones in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, this handicapper is conceding the obvious.

The son of Elusive Quality is clearly the best of his generation. It would be a huge surprise if he did not become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

Whether the Pennsylvania-bred, who is also on the cusp of becoming the richest thoroughbred in history, is truly great remains to be seen. Beating the Eddingtons and Birdstones of the world is one thing. Knocking off Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro is quite another.

Even though he was undefeated after his sweep of the Triple Crown, Seattle Slew wasn't fully appreciated until he had succeeded as a 4-year-old. In 1978, the dark bay won five of seven and was second in his two losses.

How Smarty Jones fares in the future will ultimately determine his place in history. That's why it is hoped he shows up in the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Lone Star Park in Texas and races as a 4-year-old in 2005.

In the Belmont Stakes, it's hard to envision him losing. The same was said, of course, about Spectacular Bid 25 years ago. Thanks to an encounter with a safety pin in his stall the morning of the race and a poor ride by young jockey Ron Franklin, Spectacular Bid was beaten, but he went on to further establish his greatness in 1980 when he turned in what was arguably the best year any horse has ever had.

Certainly, Smarty Jones' stall will be scoured for any foreign objects this morning and Franklin won't be anywhere near the chestnut colt.

Stewart Elliott, who had never ridden in a Triple Crown race before this year, didn't make any mistakes in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. There's no reason to believe that will change in the Belmont.

Smarty Jones has shown the ability to be placed wherever his rider chooses and Elliott has all kinds of options from the outside post.

The distance of 1 1/2 miles is a question, but the same goes for his eight opponents and he was running away from his challengers in Kentucky and Maryland.

As for wagering on the Belmont, a win bet is ridiculous, unless you want to put down $2 and keep the ticket as a souvenir.

He could be a single in the Belmont Park pick six, which features a guaranteed pool of $1 million, or in the pick four, which also has a guaranteed pool of $1 million, and a player could hope for prices in the other legs.

There is also the exacta and, seeing how second choice Purge has already been blitzed twice by Smarty Jones and seems especially vulnerable at the Belmont distance, a longshot could be second.

One candidate is Master David. Trainer Bobby Frankel was originally going to skip the Belmont, which he won a year ago with Empire Maker, but changed his mind partly after hearing that fellow Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens thought the colt was the one most likely to upset Smarty Jones.

Master David has given no indication that he's capable of that Herculean feat, but he should be running on at the finish while a lot of his competitors are gasping.

His new rider, Jose Santos, is no stranger to spoiling a Triple Crown. He was the rider when Lemon Drop Kid ended Charismatic's bid in 1999.

As for the others, Rock Hard Ten could improve off his distant in the Preakness, but could he improve that much? Birdstone and Eddington are still overrated, although Eddington may wake up with the move to Belmont. At least, that's what trainer Mark Hennig is hoping as the Unbridled colt has never had a chance to run over his home track. It's going to have to make a huge difference, considering that Eddington finished 13 1/2 lengths behind Smarty Jones at Pimlico

Royal Assault, who like Birdstone, is trained by Nick Zito, didn't get close in his only other start in a graded stakes, but given Zito's history, he is sure to have excuses for both of his horses after the race is over. Tap Dancer couldn't handle Royal Assault in the Sir Barton. Caiman should have stayed in Illinois.

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