11/22/2001 12:00AM

Hardly a vintage year for Orseno


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Last fall, coming off two Breeders' Cup wins and a Preakness victory in the spring, Joe Orseno was being mentioned as the likely winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding trainer.

And even when Bobby Frankel edged him in the voting, Frankel was quoted as saying that Orseno deserved to have won.

This year, as Frankel seems destined for a second straight Eclipse Award, Orseno will not be among the finalists. By his own admission, it has been a mediocre year for Orseno and Stronach Stables, but one that could end on a high note if Red Bullet could upset the field in Saturday's Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

"So far I've had an okay year, if you don't compare it to last year," said Orseno, who in 2000 won 52 races from 245 starters and earned $6.67 million. "If we end up winning the Cigar Mile, it'd be a great ending to a year that was pretty mediocre. Still, we banked almost $2 million; for the horses that I had that was a pretty good accomplishment."

When Personal Delight won Wednesday's second race at Aqueduct, it was only the 20th win of the year for Orseno, who has started 162 horses. His stable has earned $1.8 million.

"I'm competitive," Orseno said. "Am I happy? No. But I'm also realistic. I understand what we're trying to accomplish. This is a year for future years. This was just one of the down years."

In his defense, Orseno was not as well stocked this year as he was in 2000. For starters, his stars of 2000 made few appearances. Macho Uno, the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and Juvenile champion, was injured and ran only four times, winning the Pennsylvania Derby. He did finish a better-than-expected fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Perfect Sting, the 2000 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner and female turf champion, was injured in her second start and subsequently retired.

Orseno has run hardly any 2-year-olds this year, a change in philosophy from years past.

"We decided to change our 2-year-old program to better it," said Orseno, meaning practicing more patience. "Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take a couple of steps forward. This year was the year to do it. I'll have some nice 2-year-olds coming to me at Gulfstream."

The Cigar Mile marks only the third start of the year for Red Bullet, who in 2000 won the Preakness, but spent almost a year recovering from injury. After winning his 4-year-old debut at Saratoga, Red Bullet pulled a muscle in his back while finishing last in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont. Saturday, he returns to the scene of his second biggest win, a victory in the Grade 3 Gotham as a 3-year-old. Like the Cigar, that race was also at a mile.

"This is what he's ready for, he's training really well, carrying great flesh and his back problem is behind him," Orseno said. "This horse is doing as well as he's ever done for me. I'm looking forward to it."

Harmony Hall heads Huntington field

Harmony Hall, never worse than third in five starts, tops what is expected to be an eight-horse field for Sunday's $75,000 Huntington Stakes for juvenile colts at six furlongs.

In his last start, Harmony Hall recorded a front-running, half-length victory in a preliminary allowance race over this track. Before that, in the Grade 3 Cowdin Stakes, his connections attempted to rate him while on the lead and he appeared to resent it while finishing third.

"We tried to kind of rate him a little bit in the Cowdin which I didn't think worked out," trainer Frank Alexander said. "He's going to rate eventually, but I don't think you can drag him back. He's a little bit antsy, but I think he's going to be a nice horse down the road. He should run very well in this race."

Among those expected to face Harmony Hall are Cool Cash, Iron Deputy, J's Wild Slew, Mr. Kipp, Parfy's Legacy, Saratoga Way, and possibly Volley Ball.

Alexander also reported that Windsor Castle, winner of last year's Remsen Stakes, had his first breeze this week, going three furlongs in 39.09 seconds on Tuesday. Windsor Castle hasn't been out since finishing second in the Dwyer on July 8. He was scratched the morning of the Jim Dandy Stakes and diagnosed with a pulled muscle in his back. Alexander hopes to have him ready to run in January at Gulfstream.

"Knock on wood, he's really going good now," Alexander said. "I don't want to make any predictions, but I think he's going to be a nice horse next year."

Forbidden Apple preps for Hong Kong

Forbidden Apple, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Mile, worked four furlongs in 48.07 seconds Thursday over Belmont's main track in preparation for the $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 16.

Trainer Christophe Clement had considered sending Forbidden Apple to Hollywood Park for this weekend's Citation Handicap, but didn't want to jeopardize running in the Hong Kong race.

"It's difficult to do the Breeders' Cup, ship, run in the Citation, ship, and run in Hong Kong," Clement said. "Hong Kong is more than twice the purse of the Citation and it's a Group 1."

Clement said Forbidden Apple, who ran fourth in the Hong Kong Cup at 10 furlongs last year, will ship to Hong Kong on Dec. 1. Corey Nakatani will ride.

- Robbie Davis, who hit his knee against the outside rail Wednesday when his mount bolted in the sixth race, took off his two scheduled mounts Thursday. Mike Kelly, Davis's agent, said Davis was still a little sore. Davis was scheduled to keep his commitment Friday in California, where he was to ride Riskaverse in the $200,000 Miesque Stakes at Hollywood Park.