11/15/2007 12:00AM

Hill on his way to journeyman success

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Channing Hill is off to an excellent start at Aqueduct.

Through Thursday's weather-shortened two-race card, Hill had booted home 10 winners from 69 mounts, good for a fourth-place tie in the jockey standings.

Hill, who enjoyed terrific success as an apprentice, seems to have secured a solid foothold as a journeyman rider. He has been getting steady business from trainer Mike Hushion and is looking forward to the upcoming winter in New York.

"It gets cold here, but with the races you can win, you can buy a nice jacket," Hill said.

Hill, 20, arrived in New York right out of high school in Nebraska at the tail end of 2004. He got his first win the summer of that year at Prairie Meadows.

The son of former jockey Allen Hill, Channing led all bug riders in New York with 115 wins in 2005. He finished second that year to Emma-Jayne Wilson in the Eclipse Award balloting for outstanding apprentice.

The transition from apprentice with a prized weight allowance to journeyman rider is tough for a jockey. Many bug riders who have success on a major circuit like New York drop down to smaller tracks to re-establish their business.

"That thought always goes through your mind, but I want to be a New York rider," Hill said. "I want to ride the best horses and be a leading rider in New York. The only way to do that is to pay my dues now."

That persistence is paying off.

"My agent, Joey DiAngelo, has done a great job, and Mike Hushion has put me on a lot of live horses." Hill said. "We had good seasons at Belmont and Saratoga, but everything at Aqueduct seems to be going in our favor. I couldn't be more thankful for it."

Utopia looks to bounce back

Utopia left his race in the paddock prior to the Meadowlands Cup, bucking off jockey Mike Luzzi and generally acting like a horse who didn't want to be there.

And he ran that way, finishing a soundly beaten sixth after bobbling at the break.

A 7-year-old winner of more than $4.8 million, Utopia tries to rebound Saturday in the Stuyvesant Handicap at Aqueduct and prove the Meadowlands Cup was a rare poor performance in an otherwise stellar career.

"He really trained well for that race," said Rick Mettee, assistant to Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor. "He never traveled well at any time in the race and he faded meekly around the bend. We're hoping it was just running under the lights on a muggy night that took him by surprise. Since the race, he couldn't have trained any better."

Utopia will be the final Godolphin horse to run in New York this year. Several prominent runners in the barn, like Afrashad, will winter in Dubai. Others will head south to Florida with Mettee.

Utopia's future plans hinge on how he runs in the Stuyvesant. The winner of the $1 million Godolphin Mile in March 2006, Utopia is at an age and level of accomplishment where retirement becomes a consideration.

"A lot depends on how he runs in this race," Mettee said. "There are no definitive plans right now. They want to see how he runs. You would like to think, off the best of his form, he would be competitive here."

Even though the race is loaded with pace with Barcola and Awfully Smart in the field, Mettee points to Utopia's win in the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap at Belmont Park as an effort that would make him a key contender. Utopia pressed the pace in that race before taking over in late stretch to win by a length. Following the Westchester, Utopia missed the entire summer with hoof problems.

Down in Florida, Afrashad has already joined Etched, Numaany, and Musical Note in quarantine at Payson Park prior to departure for Dubai.

The front-running winner of the J.B. Moseley Handicap at Suffolk Downs last time out, Afrashad captured Aqueduct's Fall Highweight Handicap in 2006.

Mettee said that a return appearance in the Fall Highweight on Nov. 22 had been under consideration, along with the De Francis Dash. Instead, Afrashad will tackle a Grade 3 race at Nad Al Sheba with the $2 million Golden Shaheen in March the ultimate goal.

Velasquez to serve week suspension

Cornelio Velasquez starts a seven-day suspension on Friday, having dropped his appeal of a careless riding suspension from the seventh race at Saratoga on Aug. 5.

David Jacobson, the Big A's leading trainer, was fined $500 by the stewards for failing to have the foal papers for Mithaal on file, necessitating a late scratch from the third race on Wednesday.