06/15/2004 11:00PM

Elliott fires agent Lopez


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Less than two weeks after his brush with Triple Crown immortality aboard Smarty Jones, jockey Stewart Elliott fired his agent, Ray Lopez, on Tuesday.

Elliott and Lopez teamed for the trip of a lifetime with Smarty Jones this spring, a journey that fell one length short of a Belmont Stakes victory and Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown triumph.

"I feel like I won the Super Bowl and got fired," Lopez said.

The news spread like wildfire Wednesday morning on the Monmouth Park backstretch, as Elliott and new agent Joe Rosen made the rounds from barn to barn to introduce the new team.

"It's just a business decision, that's all," said Elliott. "Things have been great. I got off to a great start at Monmouth. It's just a business decision."

Elliott declined to be more specific, saying, "I want to do as well as I can. Now is the time to do it."

The desire to capitalize on Elliott's sudden fame is apparently at the root of the change.

"Already this morning, I've talked to a couple of people I normally wouldn't talk to," said Rosen, the long-time agent for jockey Chuck Lopez.

"He's going to ride in the Queen's Plate next Sunday [June 27 at Woodbine]," Rosen said. "He's got so much business. I've got to sort through everything and get it all in the right places."

Rosen will continue to book mounts for Lopez while taking on Elliott as well.

The timing of the change seems strange.

In addition to riding Smarty Jones, who has earned over $7.5 million this year, including a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park, Elliott is winning races at a steady clip.

He is the runaway leader in the Philadelphia Park jockey standings, even though he has ridden there only infrequently since Monmouth opened May 29.

Business is good for him at Monmouth, too.

Elliott started the new week on Wednesday in second place in the standings, one win behind Joe Bravo. Elliott, who rides first call for leading owner Michael Gill, has the most mounts at the meet.

Elliott and Lopez were an effective team, on and off the racetrack. Lopez helped deflect media attention during the Triple Crown, when questions arose over Elliott's past legal problems.

Lopez began representing Elliott when he moved to Philadelphia Park from Monmouth in 1999. He was surprised to be fired.

"If there's a good explanation, I'd like to have it," said Lopez. "We've had a long relationship and a lot of success. I took over when he was down and out. We had great success this year winning a Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. That's a pretty good resume. I think I've done a good job."

Lopez said there were no financial issues with Elliott and that he is looking for a new job.

"I'm going to sit back and see if there's another rider out there," said Lopez. "Right now, I am unemployed."