05/14/2004 12:00AM

Robinson shakes off the rust

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FORT ERIE, Ontario- - Opening day at Fort Erie, May 1, was hardly a triumph for Kris Robinson, the Fort's leading apprentice of 2002, but he was happy to be back in the saddle again.

Robinson was riding for the first time since he was injured during the running of the Peninsula Stakes here last Aug. 4. His mount, Ocala Frost, trailing the field, went down while turning into the stretch on the turf course.

Somersaulting in the air, Robinson landed flat on his back. The result was a fracture of the third lumbar, at the bottom of the spine.

Robinson had four mounts during the opener. His first, Ash Grove, in the second, reared at the break, and trailed thereafter.

In the third, Robinson and Alhorsesgotoheaven beat just one horse. Likewise on Durango in the seventh.

The highlight of Robinson's day was the finale when Sorority Pledge finished fifth.

Over the next two days Robinson managed to hit the board once in six rides. He did it with Nancy McWin on day 2.

Day 4 was a turnaround, as Robinson won with three of his four mounts. Last week, Robinson, 26, scored twice more. Heading into this week's action, Robinson was in third place in the jockey standings with five wins. Francine Villeneuve was at the top with 11 wins and last year's champion, Martin Ramirez, is next with 10.

"I did nothing all winter," said Robinson, who was the track's fifth-leading rider with 73 wins in 2002. "The order was 'Be smart. Take care of your body. No racing, no snowboarding.' I feel great."

Robinson was named to ride five on Saturday and three on Sunday.

Improved stock gives Connelly a boost

Trainer R. Rex Connelly, 61, put Fort Erie on his schedule for the first time last year.

Although he won just one race from 34 starts here, Connelly is back and eager. He won four races at Tampa Bay over the winter.

"I feel I have a little better caliber than I did last year," said Connelly, who was a practicing equine dentist before he began training on an off-and-on basis.

"I'm expecting to do much better than last year. The racing was excellent and I really enjoyed it here. I can't say enough about the place."

Connelly has 30 horses on his Ocala, Fla., farm. He will be racing seven or eight of them here. Last Sunday, he scored with Wicked Slick ($17.70).

Connelly will saddle Boldy Clever on Sunday.

Dobson steps in for deceased friend

Kim Dobson is training the horses that were under the care of the late David Schmidt.

Schmidt died shortly after being buck-kicked by a horse Jan. 4, one day short of his 46th birthday. He was exiting the stall after a routine feeding on a nearby farm, where his horses were being wintered.

Schmidt tied for eighth place in the trainers' standings last year with 22 wins. The year before, he was sixth with 29.

Schmidt excelled in the training game. But in the last two years he bought at the yearling sales for the first time. There were four buys.

"Dave was excited about all of them," said Dobson, who was Schmidt's close friend. "He picked out some nice horses. I figure he will be up there breathing down my neck. I have no choice but to produce."

Dobson said Top Notch Fox and Single Again have been working terrifically and are close to making their first start.