01/03/2005 12:00AM

Bush almost unbeatable on inner dirt

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horsemen on this circuit had to be relieved when they picked up the overnight for Wednesday's Aqueduct card and didn't see trainer Tom Bush's name on it.

Through the first month of the inner-track meet, Bush has been the hottest trainer on the grounds, saddling 10 winners from 22 starts, an astounding .454 winning percentage. His 10 wins equal Richard Dutrow Jr. for the most during the inner-track season.

"I don't know what to tell you, it's been as good as it gets," Bush said Monday in his Belmont Park office.

Bush hopes his hot streak can continue at least through Saturday when he runs Tani Maru in the $75,000 Count Fleet Stakes for 3-year-olds. Tani Maru, whom Bush claimed for $75,000 in September, won an entry-level allowance race by a neck on Dec. 15, his first start around two turns.

"He didn't seem to have any trouble with the distance, he didn't have any trouble negotiating two turns on the inner track, so that gave us some hope for the next couple if everything goes well," said Bush, who is also eyeing the Whirlaway in February.

Last winter Bush had what he felt was a promising 3-year-old in Cuba, who won a nine-furlong maiden race over the inner track before finishing second in an allowance on the main track. Cuba finished eighth in the Wood Memorial, fracturing his knee in the race. On Sunday, Cuba won his second straight allowance race, impressing Bush in the process.

"I was really thrilled with Cuba," Bush said. "He had 123 pounds, he didn't get the lead. I really thought he took a step forward and showed some guts. I'm really hopeful he can keep going."

Bush has had success with recent arrivals in his barn. Trainer Christophe Clement and owner Waterville Lake Stable left Santa Croce with Bush this winter, and the filly has won two straight with blinkers added.

"She's bred to be any kind," Bush said. "She's got some physical problems. Christophe gave her lots of time, she's a little bit more mature now, the fields are a little softer, and she's obviously taken to the inner track. We tried the blinkers just as a thought; there was nothing that indicated that she needed them."

Blinkers certainly helped Brushon Me, who was given to Bush from recently retired Jimmy Picou and promptly won a New York-bred maiden race at odds of 22-1.

"She had some hind-end trouble when I got her, we did some work on her, and she seemed to respond to that; she got a little bit more length in her stride," Bush said. "I worked her one time, and in that one work she showed me very dramatically that she very much needed the blinkers."

Though Bush is inactive on Wednesday, he believes he fires two live bullets on Thursday in the first and fourth races. In the opener, he will saddle Silent Siren, another horse left to him this winter by Clement. Silent Siren finished second at this $35,000 level last out.

In the fourth, Bush saddles Lord Kitty Karson, a 4-year-old New York-bred filly making her debut.

"She's very fast," Bush said. "She wasn't the most correct filly in the world - we've had to take a lot of time with her. Hopefully she's going to run well."

Bank Audit will stay sprinting

Following Bank Audit's dominant victory in last Saturday's , trainer Greg Martin said he would consider stretching out the filly in distance, perhaps in the Affectionately Handicap on Jan. 15.

Upon further consideration, Martin said he would keep Bank Audit sprinting and will consider running in the $75,000 Correction Handicap here on Feb. 5 and/or the Grade 2, $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Feb. 19.

"She came out of the race super," Martin said. "Things are going the right way spacing her races a month apart. I'm leaning toward the Correction. The thing about the Fritchie is it's seven-eighths, which I really think is her best distance."

Bank Audit earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for her Interborough victory, her third straight win.

Smith suffers broken nose

Jockey Ariel Smith suffered a broken nose as a result of a four-horse spill in Sunday's fourth race, but he may keep his riding engagements on Wednesday.

Smith was aboard Patriotic Princess, who broke down while leading the field around the far turn. She suffered a broken right ankle and had to be euthanized. Patriotic Princess unseated Smith, and three other horses tumbled and dropped their riders. None of the other horses or riders was injured.

Smith was taken to nearby Jamaica Hospital, where he was also complaining of pain in his right knee. According to agent Jorge Velasquez, Smith does not have any problems with his knee.

Velasquez said that "as far as I know" Smith will ride his three mounts on Wednesday.

LaPlace: I was fired

Don LaPlace said he did not retire, but instead was fired from his job as linemaker at the New York Racing Association.

In a news release last week, NYRA announced that Eric Donovan would be the new linemaker, taking over for LaPlace, who was retiring.

"I didn't retire, I was fired," LaPlace, 74, said. "I was looking to work one more year. It was important to me because the Breeders' Cup was coming. The way they did it wasn't very nice."

According to LaPlace, NYRA vice-president Bill Nader informed him he was fired right before Christmas. LaPlace did the line for the final week of 2004. LaPlace has done the line at NYRA on and off for 20 years.

Nader said he felt using the word retirement was a more gentle way of making the news public.

* Apprentice rider Channing Hill won his first race in New York, guiding Tip City ($24.80) to victory in Sunday's fifth. Hill, 17, is originally from Nebraska, and began riding in June at Prairie Meadows in Iowa.