05/31/2004 11:00PM

He was on right mare after all


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the first time on Monday, Mike Smith watched Azeri go to the starting gate without him when the mare ran in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Azeri, whom Smith rode to the 2002 Horse of the Year and older female championships and the 2003 older female championship, was ridden by Pat Day to a seventh-place finish in the Met Mile.

It was the worst finish of Azeri's 19-race career in her first start against males. And the whole thing occurred 25 minutes after the best part of Smith's day. He had just dismounted from Noches de Rosa in the winner's circle of the $324,250 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"That takes some of the sting out of it," said Smith, a member of the Hall of Fame.

Smith was told recently by Azeri's owner, Michael Paulson, that he was being replaced on Azeri by Day. After the Met Mile, he was in no mood to gloat over the loss. Commenting on Azeri's position on the rail, Smith said, "She probably wasn't on the best part of the track."

Instead, he was more interested in discussing Noches de Rosa's surprise win over Megahertz, the 3-5 favorite.

Turning for home in the four-runner Gamely, Smith was fighting for the lead with Quero Quero and Dimitrova when he noticed that Megahertz was not in contention.

He turned to Kent Desormeaux, who was riding Dimitrova to his outside, and shouted, "Where's she at?"

Smith did not wait for an answer.

"I knew she was back there somewhere," Smith said of Megahertz. "I didn't want to wait for her."

Noches de Rosa scored by a length over Megahertz, who trailed by as many as 15 lengths and made a remarkable rally in the final furlong.

The victory was Smith's first stakes win of the Hollywood Park meeting, and his only victory of the day. Through Monday, he had eight wins, which leaves him tied for 12th in the standings.

Smith picks up mount on Pesci

Smith's position in the standings should rise in coming weeks. Patrick Valenzuela, who through Monday led all riders with 33 wins, will be suspended for 30 days in June, which will free up numerous top mounts for other riders.

Valenzuela's suspension started on Tuesday and continues through June 30. Valenzuela went to Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday in an attempt to have the suspension postponed a week so he could ride Rock Hard Ten in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but his stay was denied.

Smith will ride at Hollywood Park this weekend. He is expected to ride Pesci in Sunday's Hawthorne Handicap over 1 1/16 miles. Valenzuela was aboard Pesci for a win in her last start, but Smith was aboard for her first two wins late last year.

'Ema' goes for 10 in row

There are four stakes this weekend at Hollywood Park, two apiece on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday's top races are the $175,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/8 miles on turf and the $100,000 Desert Stormer Handicap for fillies and mares over six furlongs.

The Honeymoon winner will earn a berth in the $750,000 American Oaks, an invitational over 1 1/4 miles on turf on July 3. The probable starters for the Honeymoon are Amorama, Lovely Rafaela, Rather Have Rubies, Sagitta Ra, Ticker Tape, Vencendora Amiga, and Western Hemisphere.

In the Desert Stormer, Ema Bovary will attempt to win her 10th consecutive race. Trained in northern California by Larry Ross, Ema Bovary will carry high weight of 123 pounds. She has not started since winning the Madison Stakes at Keeneland on April 9.

Sunday's Hawthorne Handicap is expected to include Makeup Artist, Miss Loren, Stormica, and Summer Wind Dancer. The $75,000 Cinderella Stakes for 2-year-old fillies over 5 1/2 furlongs is part of Sunday's undercard.

Diligent Prospect sets track record

The California 2-year-old stakes division added two exciting members last weekend with a track-record performance from the colt Diligent Prospect and a striking maiden win by the filly My Miss Storm Cat.

Diligent Prospect ran five furlongs in 56.29 seconds, edging the 1989 track record of 56.40 seconds set by Magical Mile. Ridden by Jon Court, Diligent Prospect won by 3 1/2 lengths over I'll Prey for You. Doug O'Neill trains the first two finishers.

Diligent Prospect was making his second start, having finished third in his debut on April 29.

"We thought he'd move forward," O'Neill said. "He was a little erratic the first time he ran."

Diligent Prospect is owned by Royce Jaime and Lee and Ty Leatherman. The colt is expected to return for the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs on July 17. That race is also expected to draw Chandtrue, who beat Diligent Prospect in the April maiden race and subsequently won the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes on May 23.

My Miss Storm Cat is bound for the top race of the meeting for 2-year-old fillies, the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes over six furlongs on July 5.

Trained by Bob Baffert, My Miss Storm Cat led throughout a five-furlong maiden race on Saturday, drawing off to win by 10 lengths over Bulita. Ridden by David Flores, My Miss Storm Cat finished in 56.51 seconds, a very quick time. She is owned by Ed Friendly, who bought her for $70,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"We knew she was very fast," Baffert said. "She's exciting."

Expressionist wins, claimed, retired

Expressionist, who won a stakes at Del Mar in 1998 and won his 50th career start in a $10,000 claimer on Saturday, has been retired.

Saturday, Monty Ormsby claimed Expressionist, 9, and will bred him to a few mares, according to bloodstock agent Scott Lamar.

Expressionist won a sprint over 5 1/2 furlongs by three lengths on Saturday, the 10th win of his career and first since a $40,000 claimer at Hollywood Park in July 2003.

"We've been watching him run for years and we decided to get that horse and retire him," Lamar said.

Ormsby, of Palos Verdes, keeps mares in Riverside, and may send Expressionist to Oklahoma next year, Lamar said. "He thought the horse had put in his dues," Lamar said.

By Wild Again, Expressionist won the Relaunch Stakes as a 3-year-old in August 1998, and finished second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby that year. In 1999, he placed in three graded stakes on turf and dirt, including a third in the Grade 2 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar.

Puglisi takes mount in Japan

Jockey Iggy Puglisi, who through Monday was winless with 39 mounts at this meeting, has been booked to ride Island Fashion in the $1.6 million Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse this weekend.

Island Fashion won two Grade 1 races during the Santa Anita meeting - the La Brea Stakes and Santa Monica Handicap - and finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Puglisi replaces Kent Desormeaux, who will ride at Hollywood Park this weekend.

Pick six pays $95,866

Monday's pick six returned $95,866 to 13 ticketholders on a day that began with a carryover of $187,451 and included a guaranteed pool of $1 million. Bettors easily surpassed the guaranteed minimum, adding $1,906,844 on Monday.

In the pick six, there was one winning favorite, Grinding it Out ($5) in the sixth. The other winners of the pick six races were Wholly John ($9.20), Designed for Luck ($13.80), Fairly Crafty ($13.40), Taste of Paradise ($12.20), and Dewey's Trick ($13.40).