01/11/2003 1:00AM

It matters, for whom Bell toils


OLDSMAR Fla. - When Derek Bell rallied Nick's Noactor down the middle of the course to take Friday's feature at Tampa Bay Downs, it gave the rider at least one winner on six of the last seven racing days. While not a dazzling statistic, it is one that will surely catch the attention of trainers, and could result in Bell getting a wider choice of mounts.

Bell, 29, won 93 races here two years ago to lead the rider standings. He also won the riding title at Canterbury Park that season. But the 2001-2002 meeting here is one he would just as soon forget. Partly due to the loss of some big stables, Bell got off to a slow start last season and he never recovered, finishing with only 23 wins. He then returned to Canterbury, where he had another banner year, finishing second to Seth Martinez in the rider standings while winning the most stakes races - and also setting a record at that track with six winners on a single program, on June 29.

Bell got off to a slow start here again this season, but with the support of such trainers as Ida Paquette and Walter Durrett he has been exploiting his opportunities.

"Ida and Walter have been very supportive, and at any meeting you've got to have some stables to work with or you're in trouble," Bell said. "And now that Don [Hill] has agreed to work with me, I'm very encouraged about the future."

Hill, an agent who usually has one of the leading riders here, also handles the engagements for Jesus Castanon, who is currently leading the standings with 24 victories. Working for two live riders is a tricky proposition, but Hill has a reputation for being able to handle the business of two jockeys, keeping both happy and productive.

Bell has 10 wins through Friday and thinks things will get better as the meet progresses. Live mounts make riders look good, and Bell has high hopes for a 3-year-old Halo's Image gelding named Anytime Eddie. Trained by Billy McKeever, Anytime Eddie romped to an eight-length maiden win here recently, and was timed in a fast 1:25.48 for seven furlongs.

"I think he's got some potential," Bell said, "He seems to get better and better as time goes on, and we're hopeful he could be a good one."

Bell also recently worked Penthouse Promise, who finished third here in the Inaugural, and he hopes that horse will run in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 18.

Contare's Doll returns off eight-year layoff

When Contare's Doll ran in the fifth race on Friday she certainly was the most well-rested horse in the field of claiming sprinters. It was the first start for Contare's Doll since Nov. 15, 1994, when she finished eighth at Laurel.

Off the more than eight-year layoff, Contare's Doll, a 12-year-old mare, finished last of nine.

Knipe sweeps Friday turf races

There were two turf races on Friday's card, and to the surprise of few, trainer Duane Knipe won both.

Knipe has been a force here on the turf, and is especially tough with maidens racing on grass for the first time - like his fourth-race winner, Cafe Noir.