06/22/2006 12:00AM

Smart Enough sticks with his niche


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Short turf races for 3-year-olds at this time of year are regularly filled with entrants that have little experience running under those conditions. That is what makes Smart Enough a standout favorite in Saturday's $70,000 Beau Genius Handicap at Churchill Downs.

is not just experienced running the five-furlong turf distance of the Beau Genius, he also owns a track record sprinting on grass. Last month at Pimlico, he won an entry-level allowance there by racing five furlongs in a course-record 55.73 seconds.

Saturday, racing for the first time in stakes race in the Beau Genius, he will try to prove he can ship to another circuit and be just as effective.

Smart Enough has done little wrong. After running an unlucky third in his debut with a wide trip, he has reeled off two overpowering victories - first in maiden company May 6 and then against first-level allowance runners in his course record-setting performance May 26.

That victory - in which he won by 3 1/4 lengths after stalking the pace - came with his rider, Joe Rocco Jr., restraining him for much of the race in an education-building experience designed to teach Smart Enough to rate.

Smart Enough passed the test. After being keen down the backstretch, he settled comfortably in second place and motored past the front-runner under no urging. His record performance earned him a 91 Beyer Speed Figure, down from the 95 Beyer he earned in his maiden win.

Trainer John Fisher believes Smart Enough can stretch out beyond five furlongs, something the horse's dam, the multiple-stakes-winning turf sprinter Quick 'n Smart, could not do. But with the Beau Genius Handicap offering a chance for the horse to race a distance that he has already shown he likes, it made sense to pursue the race.

"You've got to make hay while the sun is shining," Fisher said.

Rafael Bejarano rides Smart Enough, a 3-year-old gelded son of Horse Chestnut owned and bred by Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. of Erdenheim Farm. Dixon is a former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

also have shown promise in grass sprints. It's Handsome I Am, managed by the powerhouse Chicago connections of owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano, is perfect in two starts on grass. And Grand Escape comes off a runner-up finish in a first-level allowance over the local course.

Rounding out the field are True Course, Lisselan Gardens, Skeleton Crew, Stalwartly, and Chief What It Is.