06/05/2002 12:00AM

Comeback kid confident


MIAMI - Three years ago Ariel Smith was on top of the racing world. He was the Eclipse Award winner as the nation's premier apprentice rider before he even celebrated his 17th birthday.

But as often happens to young jockeys to whom success comes quickly and easily, Smith learned that success can be fleeting as well.

Smith's fall from the top was not precipitated by the loss of his five-pound apprentice allowance but by a chronic knee injury, the result of a nasty spill at Saratoga during the summer of his award-winning season of 1999.

Smith made a briefly successful comeback at Gulfstream Park during the winter of 2000 but was again deterred by knee troubles. Since that time he has bounced around between Florida and New York, trying to find his niche while slowly waiting for his knee to heal. If Smith's performance during the opening six weeks of the Calder meeting is any indication, that time has finally come.

Smith's victory aboard My Account in Tuesday's second race was his sixth from just 25 mounts at this session. His 24 percent win percentage places him third behind leading rider Cornelio Velasquez and Jeremy Beasley.

"I tried to rush back after the spill and after having surgery a few years ago, and my knee just wasn't right," Smith said between races on Tuesday. "And I just wasn't able to perform like I did before getting hurt. But my knee is 100 percent right now, I'm in great shape, and I've been working hard in the mornings to get back where I was a couple of years ago. All I need is the opportunity to show people in the afternoon that I'm as good a rider now as I was when I won the Eclipse."

Smith, who has hired veteran agent Isaac Jiminez to handle his engagements, hopes to settle down in south Florida on a permanent basis after having traveled between circuits the past couple of years.

"This game is a roller coaster, and you've got to learn to roll with the punches," said Smith. "I'm still only 19 years old, and I'm going to keep fighting until I get back to the top. I wouldn't trade all the success I had a few years ago for anything, although the past few years have made me really appreciate what it was like to be at the top. I tasted success, but that was only a little bit compared to the possibilities out there, and I am hungry for more."

Stallion series: 815 eligible

Nominations have been released for the 2002 edition of the $1.2 million Florida Stallion Series, with 815 2-year-olds made eligible for the six-race series. The Stallion Series begins here on Aug. 10 with the $75,000 Desert Vixen and Dr. Fager Stakes and concludes Oct. 12 with the $400,000 My Dear Girl and In Reality Stakes.

Running Debate, currently the top local prospect for the Desert Vixen, will attempt to enhance her status as leader of the division when she takes on six rivals under allowance conditions in Friday's $28,000 feature. Running Debate, a $170,000 purchase at the February OBS sale at Calder, defeated Crimson and Roses and Lady Honoree to win her debut on May 5, with both those rivals flattering the performance by easily winning their next starts.

Citinut sidelined

Citinut, the best of the 2-year-old colts to race here thus far this season, will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a fractured sesamoid in his left front leg.

Trained by Tim Ritvo, Citinut won his career debut by eight lengths racing under a $25,000 claiming tag on April 27, then returned three weeks later to easily defeat first-level allowance company. Ritvo said he expects Citinut to be about at least six to eight months.

Wolfendale scores pair of handicaps

Trainer Rudy Wolfendale had himself a big weekend, sending out True Love's Secret to upset Saturday's Linear Handicap and coming back two days later to win the $38,325 Cool Air Handicap with Rocky North.

Rocky North, making her first start since last August, rallied from off a blistering pace of 20.85 and 44.61 seconds that did in 2-5 favorite Flying Birdie, who finished sixth and last in the overnight dash.

* Locals mourned the death last week of Dr. Ralph "Bo" Allen, who served as a veterinarian on the local circuit for many years. He was 74. "Dr. Allen was not only a great veterinarian he was also a great guy," said Charles Camac, a Calder steward.

* Trainer Oliver "Buddy" Edwards is currently recuperating at home after having a mild heart attack on May 25. He is expected to be able to return to work within the next week.