02/28/2005 12:00AM

Hill a bright light in the big city

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Unlike many high school seniors who have no idea what the future holds, jockey Channing Hill knew his destiny long before he had the diploma in hand.

Hill graduated in Columbus, Neb., on Dec. 21 and immediately started packing the car. After three days on the road, the 17-year-old Hill arrived in New York and headed to Aqueduct.

After a slow start, Hill has started to make his mark at the Big A.

Hill was riding at Prairie Meadows last summer when jockey agent Matt Muzikar, who was in town with Shaun Bridgmohan for a stakes race, saw him ride and suggested the country boy give the big city a chance.

Hill did not need a lot of convincing.

"I figured I'd better jump on the chance," said Hill. "It's a big circuit and one of the top levels of racing."

And a long way from the five-eighth-mile track in Columbus where he rode for the first time in the summer of 2003. He had three mounts that afternoon as a one-day experiment. Hill went back to high school for his junior year and started riding in earnest last summer. He cut the season short to finish school.

Hill, who retains a Midwestern earnestness, is excited and a little awed by the whole experience.

"It's thrilling winning races," said Hill. "There are a lot of very good riders here. I'm just happy to be able to ride with them and have them teach me something."

Hill had a big afternoon Saturday, winning a pair of races and missing a third by only a head when Northern Stealth failed to hang on in the last race.

The first victory of the day was his 40th, reducing his weight allowance from seven to five pounds. He has ridden 16 winners from 149 mounts since he began riding at Aqueduct on Dec. 30.

As for New York itself, the city wasn't as intimidating as the images Hill had expected from watching television.

"It's not as bad as I thought it was," said Hill. "I thought it was a big, scary place. It's not that bad, but it is a big cultural shock coming from a town of 30,000. I went into Manhattan on New Year's Eve. I'd never seen that many people before."

Country Be Gold on target for Stymie

Fresh from his rousing victory in the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap, the veteran Country Be Gold is heading to the $75,000 Stymie Handicap on Saturday, the main event of the upcoming weekend at the Big A.

The 8-year-old Country Be Gold slipped through along the inside in the Aqueduct Handicap to register his 11th career victory and put him only $536 short of $800,000 for his career.

The horse was reunited with trainer Steve Kappes after running fourth in the Grade 3 Stuyvesant Handicap in November. Kappes had the horse from fall of 2000 until December 2002, when the horse was transferred to Reynaldo Nobles for the 2003 season.

Attitude, along with soundness, are the keys to Country Be Gold remaining effective at an advanced age.

"He really enjoys training," said Kappes. "He'll play around like a 3-year-old colt, but when he gets on the track, he's all business. As soon as he's off the track, he goes back to playing."

At this point, Country Be Gold doesn't need a lot of work.

"He's race-fit," said Kappes. "We just gallop him. It's basically him. And he really likes the cold weather. I think it picks him up a little bit."

The biggest challenge for County Be Gold is getting the right pace scenario and ride that allows him to make a late run. He came from 15 lengths back to win the Aqueduct Handicap.

"That's been a problem through out his career," said Kappes. "You can't fall 25 lengths behind stakes horses. That's too hard to do."

Kappes credits Jose Espinoza with doing a good job last time of keeping Country Be Gold in the hunt despite getting slightly pinched at the break.

The New York Racing Associa-tion's stakes coordinator, Andrew Byrnes, also expects Aggadan, Hydrogen, Penobscot Bay, Salic Law, and Song of the Sword for the Stymie. The Lady's Groom is a possibility.

Miss Fortunate ready for Next Move

Miss Fortunate came out of her 2 3/4-length victory in the Rare Treat Handicap last Saturday in good order, according to Art Tsiamis, the assistant trainer who handles Bill Mott's New York division.

"She looks good," Tsiamis said the morning after the race. "No nicks, cuts or bruises."

The next target: the Grade 3, $100,000 Next Move Handicap at 1 1/8 miles here on March 25.

"It would be nice to get her a graded stakes win," said Tsiamis. "She's run against a lot of very good fillies."

The 5-year-old Miss Fortunate has six victories - none of them in graded stakes - in 20 career starts.

Miss Fortunate prevailed in the Rare Treat despite an extremely wide trip all the way around the track. The win provided a solid lift for the barn.

The majority of the Mott horses are wintering in Florida. Tsiamis, who started out with 13, is down to only seven as runners headed south to join the main string.

That process will reverse next month as the winter season ebbs and the normal northerly migration begins.

"It's a little bit quiet now," said Tsiamis. "We've had time to work on the barn and get some painting done. The quiet won't last for long."

'New Yorker' may go to Louisiana

Naughty New Yorker, who comes off a second-place finish in the Whirlaway Stakes here, may make his next start in the Louisiana Derby on March 12 at Fair Grounds, his trainer, Pat Kelly, said Monday.

Kelly wants to keep Naughty New Yorker racing around two turns. The next graded stakes race at Aqueduct is the Gotham on March 19, but it is scheduled to be a one-turn mile on the main track. If poor weather were to lengthen the inner-track season and move the Gotham to a two-turn race on that surface, Kelly said he would be inclined to remain in New York. But he is keeping the Louisiana Derby as an option, and said he won't make a decision until the weekend.

"The way the weather's going, the Gotham may stay on the inner," Kelly said Monday after Naughty New Yorker worked a half-mile at Belmont Park in 48.67 seconds. "Any kind of weather delays it. We're due for another nor'easter. That's why I worked him today. I work him before every blizzard.

"We're just trying to get through it. Unfortunately that damn groundhog was right."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman