05/26/2004 11:00PM

Rock Hard Ten behaves himself

One of Smarty's main Belmont Stakes rivals, Rock Hard Ten, works at Churchill Downs under Craig Perret.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Unable to find any physical reason for Rock Hard Ten's erratic behavior in his workout here Tuesday morning, trainer Jason Orman on Thursday went about preparing his lightly raced colt for next Saturday's 136th Belmont Stakes.

Rock Hard Ten returned to the track Thursday morning, jogging once around the Belmont Park oval with exercise rider John Byrne aboard. On Tuesday, Rock Hard Ten balked when he was asked to work by jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who had to turn the colt around two times and start over. When he finally did breeze, Rock Hard Ten was credited with a half-mile move in 47.43 seconds.

"You don't really like it when they balk - it's sometimes a sign their mind is on something else - but he moves well over the track," Orman said. "When he did end up working, he worked really good."

Orman said Rock Hard Ten underwent a thorough exam following the work and was deemed to be fine.

"There was nothing to X-ray. He was cold and tight and everywhere flexes fine," Orman said. "He was good today, happy, he was playing around a little bit."

Rock Hard Ten is coming off a second-place finish behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness, where he was beaten 11 1/2 lengths. Orman is hoping the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes will help narrow the gap between his horse and Smarty Jones.

"I don't know if it's going to be in the disfavor of Smarty Jones," Orman said of the Belmont distance. "That horse has handled everything so far. Our horse is a big, long-striding horse and, hopefully, it's more of a galloping kind of race. I hope that's where we can make up some ground on him."

Orman expects Rock Hard Ten to improve from the Preakness simply because it was the colt's first start in six weeks and only his fourth career race. Rock Hard Ten won his first two starts before finishing second (disqualified to third) in the Santa Anita Derby.

"When he trains, he does everything so easy," Orman said. "He really got a lot out of his last race. Hopefully, we'll be able to stalk Smarty Jones, and hopefully stamina will carry us through that last part."

Before the Preakness, Rock Hard Ten balked at the starting gate and delayed the start before finally being loaded in. He has visited the Belmont starting gate several times already and was scheduled to do it again Friday through Sunday before his final workout on Monday.

Orman said Monday's workout would definitely be done in company with another horse. Orman is also considering working Rock Hard Ten in blinkers.

Valenzuela to appeal Tuesday

On Tuesday, Valenzuela will seek to get an injunction from a Los Angeles Superior Court that will enable him to ride Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont Stakes, his attorney Don Calabria said. Calabria is seeking the injunction to delay the start of a one-month suspension handed down May 18 by the California Horse Racing Board that was to begin Tuesday.

The CHRB actually suspended Valenzuela four months, but gave him three months' credit for time served.

"I got the decision, and I'm preparing the papers to appeal," Calabria said. "Patrick wants to appeal. We're going into court on Tuesday at 8:30. Going in Tuesday complicates things because Patrick wanted to ride on Friday at Belmont and they're taking entries on Tuesday for Friday."

David Hicks, the NYRA steward, said Valenzuela would be allowed to be named on horses for next Friday's card.

"We would allow him to be named on horses for the simple reason the wagering board licensed him the other day," Hicks said. "Until such time his suspension goes into effect we can't stop him from being named on horses."

Smarty ought to like 1 1/2 miles, Servis says

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones had an easy day of training Thursday, jogging a mile at Philadelphia Park. Smarty Jones was scheduled to work seven furlongs Friday morning.

While his opponents hope the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont helps close the gap between them and Smarty Jones, trainer John Servis said he is actually looking forward to running his horse that far.

"The fact that this horse doesn't seem to get tired, I would think he would actually enjoy the mile and a half," Servis said.

Horseshoes and hoop dreams

Billy King, president of the Philadelphia 76ers, brought one of Smarty Jones's horseshoes to the NBA draft lottery Wednesday night.

The Sixers were hoping that a shoe belonging to the hometown hero would be the lucky charm that moves them up in the draft lottery.

But it didn't work. The Sixers went into the draft lottery with the ninth-worst record, and came out of it with the ninth pick. The worse a team's record, the more ping pong balls representing that team are placed in a hopper and the better chance that team has of drawing the top pick.

The Orlando Magic, owners of the NBA's worst record (21-61), had the best chance to land the first draft pick, and they wound up with it.

Williams let on that he doesn't believe in lucky charms.

"I think that Smarty Jones horseshoe may have cost them," he said. "You're better off with ping pong balls, and the more the better."

- additional reporting by Mike Farrell and Jay Privman