12/13/2004 1:00AM

A choice: Naughty or nice

Smarty Jones is now available in molded plastic and as a pinup horse for a 2005 fund-raising calendar.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Here we are, deep in the season, just 10 days until Christmas and still wondering how to spend our bountiful tax cuts on holiday tokens of friendship and affection. Some last-minute ideas:

Yes, there are handicapping books and "how-to" videos and all manner of gambling aids and research tools, including the collectors edition of the 2004 Daily Racing Form Handicappers Expo, which is almost as good as having Mike Watchmaker's home phone number.

But this is supposed to be a Christmas present, not homework, so how about some real fun? Just imagine the look on ol' dad's face when he unwraps his very own version of "The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game."

It is British, with a steeplechasing theme - which probably explains a lot - packaged as a good, old-fashioned board game, complete with pencils, dice, and scorekeeping pads. As described in the advertising, "The object is to be the person with the most money at the end of the six-race meeting. There are two ways of winning money since you are both an owner and a punter. You race your horse in the six races and try to win the prize money or bet on your rival's horse."

Ah, but there's more.

"Whilst racing, make the other players bite the dust by your devious use of the race cards. Make their horses fall, slip up, and veer sideways as they approach the finish line. Even if they get through this, play your Stewards Enquiry or Objection card to turn the result into your favour."

The online reviews of "Really Nasty Horse Racing" are uniformly positive. "This game really is brilliant," reads one. "It lets you bow to your worst instincts without any apologies. Great fun for get-togethers."

Right . . . Manson family get-togethers.

There probably are more appropriate gifts for younger racing fans, beginning with the brand-new issue from the classic collection line of collectible Breyer model horses.

You guessed it. Smarty Jones has joined the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Cigar - not to mention Trigger, Scout, Champion, and the Black Stallion - immortalized in high-quality, molded plastic. Breyer's version of Smarty Jones is the featured product on the lead page of the Breyer Horses website. That makes horse racing look very cool indeed. The Smarty model is designed in full stride, marked to perfection, and truthfully, those legs look just fine to me.

The accompanying text describes Smarty Jones as defeating "18 of the best horses in the world" in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, and further laments that in his brave Belmont Stakes he was "overtaken in the last few furlongs of the race, ending his gallant effort to capture the Triple Crown."

For those who prefer their Smarty Jones memorabilia coming from a slightly more informed source, go to the website Smartysgift.com and think about spending 10 whole dollars on a 2005 calendar that could make even Bobby Frankel smile.

Bill Foster and Shelley Abrams, two fine folks from the inner circle of the Smarty Jones world, put together 12 months' worth of candid, goofball, and backstage calendar photos that prove once again why the 2004 Triple Crown was more fun than a box full of puppies.

Foster, as foreman and senior statesman of the John Servis barn, served the cause by helping protect the horse while keeping the story accessible to an adoring public. It also helped to have a four-legged ham as the star of the show.

And so, for the March page, there is Smarty Jones chewing an Easter bonnet. For October he is flanked by a knee-high jack-o'-lantern. June brings summertime, so Smarty dons sunglasses. And for May - what else? - he nibbles on a bouquet of roses.

Best of all, a portion of the Smarty Jones calendar sales is going toward the construction of Imagination Land, a wheelchair and special-needs access playground being developed in Bensalem Township, the home of Philadelphia Park. That is Smarty's real gift.

Finally, word has been getting out that among the hidden treasures in the national spending bill recently enacted is a law that would allow wild horses and burros currently under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management to be sold for slaughter.

The legislation was inserted by Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican of Montana, who maintains that the threat of sale for slaughter will inspire the Bureau of

Land Management to market its adoption program more aggressively. (Governance by threat - what a concept.) The ultimate congressional goal seems to be for Land Management to trim its herds in public management areas in 10 Western states, from the present population of about 37,000 to 26,000 by 2006.

A spokesperson for the South Dakota-based International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros called the new law "inhumane" and "misguided," and predicted that further thinning of the mustang population would weaken the genetic pool.

It is not a giant leap, from concern for Thoroughbreds to the protection of a noble subspecies like the mustang. Short of adopting one of these remarkable prairie creatures, it couldn't hurt to spend $25 on an ISPMB membership to aid the cause.