05/26/2004 11:00PM

Elliott's new summer home


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Long before Smarty Jones blazed his way to Triple Crown glory, jockey Stewart Elliott decided the time had come to move along.

Like many riders and trainers based at Philadelphia Park, Elliott was frustrated by the legislative failures in Pennsylvania to secure slot machines for the state's racetracks.

After due consideration with agent Ray Lopez, Elliott opted to return to Monmouth Park this summer.

"We were considering a move even before Smarty Jones won the Rebel [at Oaklawn]," said Elliott. "We were thinking about going somewhere for the summer, either here or Delaware. We decided we liked Monmouth."

Elliott has ridden at Monmouth in the past. He was fifth here in 1998 and second in 1999 before relocating to Philadelphia Park in 2000.

He had hoped to remain there.

"We've been sticking at Philadelphia, hoping they would get the slots," said Elliott. "Now that we've left, they'll probably get them."

Elliott has already made an important connection at Monmouth: Michael Gill. Elliott will ride first call for the owner, who shattered the Monmouth record with 62 wins last season.

"I think he knows me better than I know him," said Elliott of Gill. "I remember the name and I met him a long time ago in New England. I probably rode for him in New England, but haven't ridden for him recently."

Elliott is also looking to rekindle relationships with Monmouth trainers he rode for in the past, including Tim Hills, Linda Rice, Dennis Manning, and Vickie and Phil Oliver.

One might think the relocation would offer a welcome distraction in the midst of Triple Crown mania. But for Elliott, the Belmont is always on his mind.

"It's kind of a hard thing to keep your mind off," said Elliott. "You do your job and you ride the horses you have to and you focus on them at the time, but it seems as soon as you're on your way back to the jockeys' room after the race, somebody wants you to sign something with Smarty Jones on it. It's always there."

Orseno, Anderson rebuilding

Elliott isn't the only horseman returning to Monmouth this summer. Trainers Joe Orseno and Bill Anderson have both come back to New Jersey in an effort to rebuild their stables.

Orseno had a five-year run as a private trainer for Frank Stronach, including an amazing stretch in 2000 during which he won the Preakness with Red Bullet and two Breeders' Cup races: the Juvenile with Macho Uno and the Filly and Mare Turf with Perfect Sting.

When the training contract ended in December 2002, Orseno had to pick up the pieces. He tried to remain in New York but concluded Monmouth was the best place to regroup.

"I've been rebuilding my stable since last year," said Orseno. "I like winning. I did well running horses in Delaware last year, because that's where they belong. I evaluated my horses and felt that coming to Monmouth was the best chance to rebuild and get things going the way I like it.

"I may not have the top horses but I have 35 horses I think can win. I think we'll do well. I'm looking forward to having a good meet."

Orseno finished second in the 1991 Monmouth standings and won The Meadowlands title in 1996.

Instead of having one large client in Stronach, Orseno now has a number of owners - including Stronach - with a handful of horses.

"Training for Stronach was a great experience," said Orseno. "It was a great learning opportunity for me. I think we stepped up to the plate and handled it well. I'm looking forward to receiving a few more horses from him down the road."

Orseno plans to be aggressive with claims.

"I made a living for 20 years claiming horses," he said. "I'm not afraid to do it and I know how to do it. I just have to remember how to fill out a claim slip."

Orseno might bump into Anderson at the claim box.

A fixture at Monmouth for 20 years, Anderson pulled up stakes and shifted to Philadelphia Park last year. The uncertainty of the New Jersey schedule combined with prospect of higher purses if slots arrived in Pennsylvania made relocation appealing.

It was a disaster. The slots never came and Anderson had many of his horses claimed away.

"You can't buy or claim decent horses at Philadelphia Park," said Anderson. "It's hard to upgrade and get people motivated to get you horses there."

Anderson, who normally maintained a barn of 20 to 30 runners, is down to eight.

He plans to increase those numbers via claims and purchases.

"Hopefully, by the end of the meet we'll have those kind of numbers again," he said.