Smarty Jones may have gone off as the favorite at the Kentucky Derby, but many handicappers still had doubts about his prospects in the race. Skeptics cited his pedigree, which, though very classy, didn't seem suited for the mile-and-a-quarter distance. Further, Smarty's trainer, John Servis, had avoided Florida and California, choosing instead to beat up on lesser competition in Arkansas. Was his horse really going to be able to handle 17 of the country's best 3-year-olds at a distance that might be beyond his reach? "All I know is, he ran the last eighth of a mile in the [1?-mile] Arkansas Derby in 12 and a fraction," says Oaklawn Park owner C.J. Cella. "I was always taught that any horse that could do that going around two turns was a champion."
At the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 15, Smarty Jones will most likely be joined by fellow Derby starters Lion Heart (who was second) and The Cliff's Edge (fifth). Chief among the race's new shooters will be Rock Hard Ten, who ran second (but was DQ'd to third) in last month's Santa Anita Derby. He missed the Run for the Roses because he didn't have enough graded stakes winnings. Also absent was Eddington, a talented stalker who many experts believe has yet to run his best race. However, history has not been kind to horses who skip the Derby; only six have won at Pimlico in the past 52 years.
A victory at the Preakness would put Smarty Jones in line to win the first Triple Crown since 1978 (nine horses since then have won the first two legs but failed in the Belmont). His tactical speed and stalking style would appear to suit the Belmont perfectly, yet because few races are run at the race's marathon mile and a half, predicting his prospects for that test is impossible. But this much is certain: It's time to take Smarty Jones seriously.