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Sports

Smarty party over for now

| Monday, June 7, 2004

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Long after the sun set on Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid, Belmont workers cleaned the wreckage of a scene that made a Heinz Field tailgate party look like a church parking lot.

The largest crowd to ever see a sporting event in New York had left behind dozens of Styrofoam coolers and portable chairs, hundreds of beer cans and thousands of losing betting slips in the track's massive backyard. As midnight approached, the crew worked in near darkness, stacking the garbage into huge 10-foot tall piles for removal.

The only thing left behind were the ghosts of so many broken hearts.

The Smarty Party is over, at least for now.

Smarty Jones, whose story captured the nation, will take off the next month in the wake of his one-length loss to 36-to-1 Birdstone in the 136th Belmont Stakes on Saturday. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion missed his chance at the $5 million Visa Triple Crown bonus, but he attracted a record crowd of 120,139 and spurred the largest betting day in thoroughbred racing with nearly $115 million wagered at all venues. The race helped NBC gain the best big-market ratings for the Belmont Stakes since 1977. The telecast of yesterday's race was watched by an average 13.4 percent of viewers in the 56 largest U.S. media markets, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

Pennsylvania-bred Smarty Jones, who had won his first eight races, was scheduled to leave New York at 10 a.m. Sunday to return to his home at Philadelphia Park.

"He's going to rest up, and then we'll get ready and put him on a schedule and map out a plan for the Breeders' Cup (Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park)," trainer John Servis said. "I'll probably just keep him in the barn. I'll walk him three or four days. That seems to settle him pretty good. We'll fatten him up and put some weight on him."

Servis said Smarty Jones showed no signs of wear after his failed bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

"He came out of the race very good. I couldn't be happier," Servis said. "He was grazing this morning. He was bright-eyed and acting real good."

Smarty Jones' next race will likely be against older horses. That would rule out the Haskell on Aug. 8 at Monmouth Park or the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 6 at Philadelphia Park, which are 3-year-old races.

"Three-year-old races really whittle down toward the end of September/October, so I think there is going to have to be a race against older horses before going into the Breeders' Cup," Servis said.

Servis said Smarty Jones' connections -- owners Roy and Patricia Chapman and jockey Stewart Elliott -- and the hometown fans of Philadelphia should have enjoyed the ride.

"I'm not going to put my head down," he said. "We accomplished a lot and our main goal was to get to the Derby, and I'm really proud of what we got done. I'm proud of the whole team and everybody needs to be happy. They don't need to be sad."

Trainer Nick Zito, a New York native who won his first Belmont Stakes in 12 tries, said Birdstone will run in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28.

Zito predicts some more big races for Smarty Jones, who stayed fourth on the all-time money with earnings of $7,613.155.

"Well, he's not done," Zito said. "You'll be seeing plenty of him and, hopefully, we'll get to race him next year and he'll go on and do some great things. And he'll be noted as the great horse like Spectacular Bid that didn't win the Triple Crown."

But Zito, who began the year with the most promising group of 3-year-olds of any trainer in the nation before injuries sidelined Eurosilver and The Cliff's Edge, said he couldn't feel too sorry for beating Smarty Jones.

"I think people should realize one thing, and I know it's the old story," he said. "Winning is everything."

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