06/07/2001 11:00PM

Small barn makes most of limited chances

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FORT ERIE, Ont. - Stanley Smith saddled his 4-year-old maiden Dimanno to win by a huge margin Monday at Fort Erie.

The 14 1/4-length margin over nine rivals was the first time this sesason a horse has won by double digits. The previous high was Murph's Star's 9 1/2-length victory May 26.

A spread such as Dimanno's is often the result of a small field or a horse dropping in class significantly. Neither was a factor in this case. Smith had claimed Dimanno last summer for $4,000 out of the gelding's 10th lifetime.

Dimanno's victory, at 1 1/16 miles, was at the maiden special weight level for a purse of $19,900. It almost got Smith even on the horse.

"When I got him he had some chips in his knee," said Smith, 48. "I had him operated on and had him spend the winter at Ocala Stud Farm. Shipping him back and forth from Florida in a boxcar was kind of expensive."

Dimanno's first start for Smith came in a five-furlong race on May 19. "It was just to get him ready for this one. And he ran brilliantly," Smith said. "He finished third. He was just beaten two lengths. He galloped out strongly and was in front just after the wire."

It was the second win on the program for Smith, a native of Jamaica. He scored with Star's Search in the first race. In just five starts this season, he has three wins, one second, and one third. Last year, his first at Fort Erie, he registered two wins from 18 starts.

Smith first received his license in 1998. He took seven runners to Philadelphia Park that year but as a group they only managed to make three starts. The following year, he had one win and three thirds from 10 starts.

Smith emigrated to Toronto 30 years ago, where he worked in a General Motors van plant, which is now closed. In the mid 1980's he partnered with a friend and they bought a pair of Thoroughbreds from a breeding farm for less than $5,000. "They weren't a bargain. They didn't do anything," said Smith. "I still remember the name of one - Pay the Tent. He couldn't pay for anything."

But Smith eventually had success as an owner racing cheap horses. He played the claiming game and bought Woodbine rejects to race at Fort Erie and other tracks.

"One of the best ones I owned was Illegal Storm. I got him for $3,500 or $4,000 in 1994. That year the horse made $76,000. He was 2 for 2 on the grass here and won seven races. We lost him at Woodbine for $12,500."

Smith credits Fort Erie trainers Joe Braithwaite, George Newlands, and C.R. Johnston as his teachers. "And I learned an awful lot From Phil England last winter in Florida. I rubbed some nice horses for him. I saw how the big outfits operate."

o Doug Gibbons is the new assistant clerk of the scales at Fort Erie. He replaces Dale Hemsley, who has resumed a riding career. Gibbons, a former leading rider at Fort Erie, was trainer Chris Tuttle's assistant recently. He will continue to exercise Tuttle runners in the mornings.