Saturday, June 5, 2004

Rain could factor in run at Triple Crown

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - So what if rain is forecast for the Belmont Stakes? Smarty Jones already has splashed to victory through pools of mud at the Kentucky Derby.

Think the grueling 1 1/2-mile oval might prove too long for him? He has finished his last two races with stamina to spare.

Today, millions will watch to see whether the brilliant, undefeated 3-year-old colt can become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 26 years.

"He's training like a machine," trainer John Servis said Friday after Smarty Jones jogged around the track at Belmont Park. "I don't see him having any problem with a mile and a half. He's ready."

Eight other horses will look to thwart Smarty's bid to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

Of the 28 horses that have entered the Belmont with a chance at the Triple, 17 have failed, including five in the last seven years.

Charismatic broke his leg during the race in 1999, War Emblem stumbled out of the gate in 2002, and Funny Cide foundered in the mud last year. And in 1979, heavily favored Spectacular Bid lost after stepping on a safety pin the morning of the Belmont.

Jason Orman, who saddles Rock Hard Ten, said the rain adds an element of surprise to every race.

"You never know how they'll handle it," he said.

The rain alone shouldn't be enough to keep Smarty Jones from making history before an expected crowd of more than 100,000. He does well on wet tracks, winning the Arkansas Derby on mud before doing the same at a drenched Churchill Downs.

Belmont StakesWhere: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Post time: 6:38 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5, 22; 5:30 p.m.

Radio: WCKY-AM (1360).

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