05/20/2004 12:00AM

Frankel puts Smarty in elite company

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who stopped Funny Cide's 2003 Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes with Empire Maker, says he believes Smarty Jones can be mentioned in the same sentence as racing legends Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Spectacular Bid.

"The way he looks right now, he's got an edge on all of them," Frankel said Thursday morning. "He runs on all kinds of tracks, he can make his own race. If somebody wants to go to the lead, he can sit. If nobody wants to go, he can go to the lead. The only thing is if he stays together. If they can get five or six more races out of him, he can be an all-timer, one of the greats."

Smarty Jones has won his first eight starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and is trying to become the first 3-year-old to go through the Triple Crown undefeated since Seattle Slew in 1977.

"Seattle Slew used to get hot if somebody got too close to him," Frankel said. "This colt, nothing bothers him. Secretariat, he didn't like an off track, he got beat a couple of times on an off track. The horse he reminds me the most of is Spectacular Bid, because Spectacular Bid was like that: he'd rate, he'd go to the lead, he'd handle any surface."

Frankel said he believes Secretariat is the greatest horse he ever saw, because "he was probably better on grass than on dirt."

Despite his respect for Smarty Jones, Frankel said he is still considering running Master David in the Belmont Stakes. Master David, 12th in the Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to run in Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.

"Finishing second and getting $200,000 is not a bad deal," Frankel said. "If something happens to that horse, who knows? On numbers, he's a great horse."

Tiger Hunt to skip Peter Pan with illness

Tiger Hunt, a stakes-winning 2-year-old whose 3-year-old campaign has been rife with setbacks, was forced to skip Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes because of a respiratory infection.

"He's had this respiratory thing - I wouldn't call it chronic, I'd call it recurring - where he fills up with mucus," said Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor Stables, which owns Tiger Hunt. "He had a good workout the other day, but at feed time he coughed one or two times. [Wednesday], he was coughing like mad."

This similar respiratory problem has limited Tiger Hunt to just one start this year. He finished fourth in the Northern Spur Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn in April. At 2, Tiger Hunt won the Cradle Stakes, was second in the Breeders' Futurity, and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"It's like one step forward, three steps back with this horse all year long," said Irwin, who says he hopes to have Tiger Hunt ready for a second-level allowance race on Belmont Day.

Sarava back at Belmont but not to run

The winner of the Belmont Stakes is in Barn 7. The winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes, that is.

Sarava, who won the 2002 Belmont Stakes at odds of 70-1, is back at Belmont Park, though he is not close to a race, according to trainer Bob Baffert.

Sarava, who has been plagued by quarter cracks throughout his career, popped another one when he finished fourth in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on April 30. Baffert decided to ship him to Belmont, where he is being looked after by John and Tonja Terranova, because he says he believes the East Coast tracks may be better for Sarava's feet than the West Coast surfaces.

"All the quarter crack specialists are there, too," Baffert said.

Baffert also shipped Teton Forest to Belmont. Fourth as the favorite in the Hirsch Jacobs on Preakness Day, Teton Forest could run next in the $200,000 Riva Ridge Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day.

Preakness runner-up Rock Hard Ten, trained by Jason Orman, is also stabled in that barn.

Celtic Sky gives Kingston another try

Celtic Sky will make his third consecutive appearance in the Kingston Handicap when he runs in Sunday's 26th renewal of that nine-furlong turf race for New York-breds.

Celtic Sky won this race in 2002 and finished second in it in 2003. Celtic Sky has not won since the 2002 West Point Handicap in Saratoga and has not run since last year's Ashley T. Cole Handicap last September.

"He's not quite the performer he was two years ago, but he's trained well," said Christophe Clement, who trains Celtic Sky. "His last two works on turf look pretty good to me. He belongs in the race."

Celtic Sky will carry 117 pounds in the Kingston, four less than starting highweight Quantum Merit. Others expected to run include Foreverness (116), Golden Commander (115), Reluctant Groom (114), Certifiably Crazy (114), Haggs Castle (114), To Go (114), and Vault (110).