09/11/2003 12:00AM

Matthews strikes again: Jasper Park, $43.60

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - For the third consecutive year, Winnipeg-based owner-trainer Pat Matthews struck with a big-priced winner after shipping into eastern Canada.

On Tuesday, Matthews won a maiden special weight on the turf with Jasper Park at a $43.60 payoff. Jasper Park, a 4-year-old colt making his seventh lifetime start, had not raced since July 20 at Assiniboia Downs.

Matthews started his yearly trek to Ontario in 2001, and it was an auspicious beginning. He won right away that year at Fort Erie, in a nonwinners of three at $14,000 with By Bird, who paid $44.80.

Last year, the Matthews-trained Copper Kettle failed twice to win her maiden at Fort Erie. So he dropped her from $20,000 to $16,000, and shipped to Woodbine, and she won and paid $17.40.

Copper Kettle returned to Fort Erie from the west with Matthews and ran sixth in a turf race here on Monday.

Matthews, a 55-year-old native of Regina, Saskatchewan, had one win from 11 starts in 2003.

"We don't start in Winnipeg until May," said Matthews, who usually spends his winters in Ocala, Fla., working with pin-hookers. "I don't race my horses hard. They usually last all year.

"I came here earlier this year," he added. "Races weren't filling for my horses. The plan is to go to Houston, Texas, after here."

Smith covets a top 10 finish

Stanley Smith never has been in the top 10 of the trainer standings this far into the season. But going into Saturday's races, Smith is tied with Bruce Alexander for ninth place. His 16 winners have come from 77 starts, a tidy 21 percent win average.

"I hope I can stay there," said Smith, who has 15 horses in training, four of whom are entered Saturday. "I've got a good shot."

Smith, 50, a former factory worker, got his license to train only six years ago. He had been a successful owner whose horses ran in the low claiming levels.

Last year, Smith saddled 13 winners here from 71 starters, a drop from his remarkable previous year, when he won at a 33 percent clip, 16 for 48.

Smith's stable star that year was Dimanno, who equaled Fort Erie's 30-year-old 1 1/16-mile track record of 1:42.20 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dimanno, who has been unraced since June 2002, may return soon.

"He's training great," said Smith. "Hopefully, he'll have one more breeze and then we'll run him short, maybe 6 1/2 furlongs.

"I'm not in a hurry to race him. It's okay if he doesn't make it back. We'll find a good home for him. He'll be comfortable for the rest of his life."

Two recent MacRae claims win

Trainer Don MacRae made two eye-catching claims here this summer for his client Darryl Jackson

One was the filly Storming on Merit, July 28, for $20,000. She was winning her fourth straight two-furlong race.

The next day, he claimed the gelding Pembroke Hall for $21,000, as he was winning his fifth straight two-furlong dash.

Two-furlong races, one for each gender, are run once every three weeks. They are limited to claimers up to $25,000.

On Monday, Storming on Merit won her second straight start for her new barn. The next day, Pembroke Hall, now out of jail (horses here must run for at least 25 percent more than their claiming price for 30 days after a claim), won to run his string to six straight wins.

"Everyone laughed when we claimed them," said MacRae. "They said they were bad claims. Guess who's laughing now. I never saw anything as fast as Pembroke Hall for a long time."

In 2000, MacRae trained Pecos Star, who won six consecutive starts at the two-furlong distance.