02/27/2002 1:00AM

Jockey Smith at home in California

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The latest proof that jockey Mike Smith has found his niche among the Santa Anita jockeys is his assignments in major stakes this weekend.

Of the four graded stakes on Saturday and Sunday, Smith will have rides in each, including on the likely favorite in Sunday's San Carlos Handicap.

Smith began riding in California full-time last May. Through Sunday, he was seventh in the standings at Santa Anita with 18 wins, three of which have come in stakes. He may add to that stakes tally this weekend.

Smith will have a mount in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap for the second time in his career, riding Cagney for trainer Richard Mandella. In 1996, Smith rode a longshot, The Key Rainbow, but finished eighth of 11. Also on Saturday, he rides Major Storm in the San Rafael Stakes for 3-year-olds and the front-running Orientate in the Frank Kilroe Mile on turf.

On Sunday, he rides Snow Ridge in the San Carlos Handicap. Smith and Snow Ridge have already won two sprint stakes at this meeting.

Of Smith's mounts, Cagney is the one that has the most promise. Third in the San Marcos Stakes in Jan. 20, Cagney is making just his second career start on the main track. He was unplaced on dirt in South America.

"I don't think handling the dirt should be a problem," Smith said. "The only concern is the kickback. He's a tough son of a gun and I think he'd handle it.

Smith was aboard Cagney for a three-furlong workout on Wednesday and came back enthused about his mount's chances.

"He's shooting off that pole and then relaxing and then kicking again," Smith said. "That's what you need on the dirt. If he takes to the surface, he'll be one to reckon with."

$1 million pick six Saturday

Saturday's program features a guaranteed pick six pool of $1 million, a sequence that includes the wide-open Santa Anita Handicap.

The bet covers the sixth through 11th races. With large fields in each leg, the bet will be very difficult to cash, creating the possibility of a carryover for Sunday.

The first leg is a one-mile claiming race on turf that drew 13 horses. The Bobby Frankel-trained Martiniquais will be well-backed. In the seventh race, there are 11 fillies and mares entered in an allowance race/optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles. Seeking the Jewel, trained by Bob Baffert, is likely to go favored from the rail.

The eighth is the $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile, featuring a field of 12. Val Royal, the winner of the Breeders'Cup Mile last October at Belmont Park, makes his 2002 debut in the Kilroe, and will be a short price.

The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap is the ninth race. Bettors will need a strong opinion or a dose of luck to stay alive in a race that consists of 14 runners.

A one-mile turf race for $45,000 to $50,000 claimers and a six-furlong maiden race for California-breds are the final two legs of the pick six.

Lord Sweeney, a gutty winner in a $62,500 claimer on Feb. 9, is the likely favorite in the turf claimer, which drew an oversubscribed field of 14. Such Charisma was second by a head behind Lord Sweeney last time.

The maiden race for California-breds drew 11 starters, including the live entry of Standard Choice and Wagon Train, owned by Golden Eagle Farm.

El Cielo out with undisclosed injury

El Cielo is sidelined because of an injury, trainer Craig Dollase said Wednesday. One of the top middle-distance turf horses in California, El Cielo was scratched from the $75,000 Reb's Policy Handicap on Wednesday at Santa Anita. Dollase did not specify the nature of the injury.

"We had a little setback," he said. "We'll know more in a few days."

He was unsure how long El Cielo would be out of action. An 8-year-old gelding, El Cielo has won 13 races and $674,375 from 21 starts, and is a force on Santa Anita's downhill turf course, on which he has won 9 of 12 starts. In his most recent start, El Cielo finished a nose behind Designed for Luck, one of the leading contenders in Saturday's $300,000 Kilroe Mile.

* Golden Apples, the winner of the Del Mar Oaks and Las Palmas Handicap last year, worked seven furlongs on turf in 1:27.60 on Wednesday. Trained by Ben Cecil, Golden Apples is preparing for her 2002 debut in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on March 23.

- additional reporting by Brad Free