Updated on 09/16/2011 7:30AM

Ex-New York rider Smith hungry for Belmont win

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Jean Raftery/Turfotos
Mike Smith is 0 for 8 in the Belmont Stakes with one second-place finish.

Mike Smith has many fond memories from his 13-year stint in New York. None of them came in the Belmont Stakes.

Smith won 15 riding titles and many of the most prestigious races on the New York Racing Association circuit, from 1989 to 2001. But he is 0 for 8 in the Belmont with one second-place finish. In 1993, Smith was aboard the Belmont favorite, Prairie Bayou, who fatally broke down during the running of the race.

Though he now regularly rides in California - he moved his tack there in April 2001 - Smith still has a yearning to win the Belmont. And if it means ruining War Emblem's bid to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, so be it.

"I can't wait to win the Belmont, are you kidding me?" Smith said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "Whether that would be ruining somebody's Triple Crown or whatever it may be, I know they'll be out there to spoil mine, so I'm out there to spoil theirs."

Smith is the rider of Proud Citizen, who finished second behind War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby and third behind War Emblem and Magic Weisner in the Preakness. While Proud Citizen really had no excuse in the Kentucky Derby, Smith believes he had a significant excuse in the Preakness.

Breaking from post 12 in the 13-horse field, Proud Citizen was five wide entering the first turn, and raced four wide for most of the run down the backstretch. Though Proud Citizen got up to War Emblem's flank in the stretch, he could not match strides with him in the final furlong and weakened late. Still, he was beaten all of 1 1/2 lengths, compared with the four lengths he was beaten by in the Derby.

"He certainly had another gear and I wasn't able to match that gear," Smith said. "I kind of feel like getting hung out wide didn't enable me to kick on with him which would have made it a whole lot closer race than it was. It certainly cost me second."

Smith is counting on his and Proud Citizen's Belmont experience to play a role in the Belmont Stakes. Smith won four spring and three fall riding titles at Belmont from 1991-96. Proud Citizen ran two of the best maiden races run here last spring, losing by a neck over a sloppy track in his debut, before romping to a 9 1/4-length maiden win, and missing the 5 1/2-furlong track record by .43 seconds.

"I already know he likes the track and I've been there for so many years. I know the track very well and there's a few little things about the big, old racetrack that I think I can pull off that might be an advantage," said Smith, who rides Proud Citizen for four-time Belmont-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

In both the Derby and Preakness, Smith took up a stalking position with Proud Citizen. Having won his maiden and the Lexington Stakes on the lead, could there be a change in tactics in the Belmont?

"You never know," Smith said. "It just depends on where you draw. At times Proud Citizen can be a little aggressive in the gate - he moves around a little bit - and that's what kind of caused us to get away a little bad in the Preakness. He's extremely quick, too. If they let me have [the lead], I'm not against that."

Wiseman's Ferry upgraded to probable

Wiseman's Ferry was upgraded from possible for the Belmont to highly probable after breezing five furlongs in 1:01.80 Friday at Churchill Downs.

Samantha Whitehall, assistant to trainer Niall O'Callaghan, was aboard.

"It was pretty darn good," said O'Callaghan. "We intentionally started him out slow. I had him going the first quarter in about 26 and coming home in 35-and-4."

O'Callaghan initially had planned on working Wiseman's Ferry on Saturday but said a threat of overnight thundershowers in the Louisville area led him to move up the work. "We'll see how he comes out of it, and if he's fine, we're going to head that way [to the Belmont]," said O'Callaghan.

Wiseman's Ferry, whose early speed could pose a challenge to Belmont favorite War Emblem, is a late bloomer on the Triple Crown scene, having won the Lone Star Derby on the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Jorge Chavez has the mount.

Sportsman's washes hands of bonus flap

Sportsman's Park remains steadfast in its refusal to take sides in the distribution of a $1 million bonus War Emblem earned by winning the Illinois Derby and the Kentucky Derby.

Sportsman's, which bought an insurance policy to cover the bonus, is due to receive the $1 million by Tuesday, and the track has sent a letter to lawyers representing Russell Reineman and The Thoroughbred Corp., as well as to the insurance policy underwriter, stating that the track itself will not decide how to distribute the bonus.

Reineman sold 90 percent of War Emblem to The Thoroughbred Corp. days after his Illinois Derby win, but contends he should be paid more than 10 percent of the bonus and has threatened to file a lawsuit against Sportsman's.

According to officials at the track, the Sportsman's letter said if an agreement wasn't in place when the insurance payment arrived, the track would file an inter-pleader action with a U.S. district court, putting the decision on how to distribute the bonus money in the hands of a judge.

- War Emblem returned to the track for the first time since his Tuesday workout, and did more than originally planned. "We had planned to jog him a mile, but he was too wild," trainer Bob Baffert said. "So, we ended up jogging him a half-mile and he galloped a half-mile."

- Sarava, the Sir Barton winner, visited Belmont's main track Friday for the first time, jogging about 1 1/2 miles. Hanne Jorgensen was aboard. "He just chilled out and took it all in," Jorgensen said.

- Like a Hero, the Alydar Stakes winner, galloped 1 1/4 miles. Andy Durnin, who hadn't been aboard Like a Hero since he was a 2-year-old, was up. "He's got a nice long stride on him," Durnin said. "That was the first time I galloped him in more than a year. There's a hell of a lot of difference. Last year, he was weak, just a big baby."

Like a Hero does have noticeable skin disease on his torso and his left front leg. According to groom Leo Torres, the skin disease broke out after the race.

- Medaglia d'Oro (Belmont), Perfect Drift (Churchill Downs Trackside), and Tracemark (Hollywood Park) were all expected to put in workouts Saturday.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh and Marty McGee

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