05/10/2006 12:00AM

Smith hopes comeback try sticks this time


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - No Shaun Bridgmohan, no Rene Douglas - this Arlington Park meet could offer an opening for a newcomer to the Chicago jockey colony, and several have applied.

Chief among them is 23-year-old Ariel Smith, who won an Eclipse Award as the leading apprentice of 1999 but who has struggled to attract business the last couple of years riding in Florida and New York. Smith won 88 races with earnings of more than $2.9 million during his Eclipse season, but in the last four years combined he has won only 90 races, including a career-low 16 in 2004. Smith even had a one-month stint as a contract rider in Singapore early this year.

"It's part of the business," Smith said. "I went on a slump. I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee, and I came back a couple of times too soon. I'd come back, but after two or three months I'd have to take off another month and let my knee recuperate. People start to doubt you."

One who did not was the trainer and ex-jockey Wesley Ward, who has known Smith since his apprentice days.

"Between him and my father" - former jockey Alfredo Smith Jr. - "they're the ones who taught me to ride," Smith said.

Smith said Ward helped engineer his move to Chicago, where he is riding many horses for Frank Calabrese and Wayne Catalano, perennially the leading owner and trainer here. "I feel great, and I'm anxious to ride more horses," Smith said.

After three days of the meet, Smith had two wins, one fewer than another newcomer, the 42-year-old Jose Ferrer. Ferrer, who usually summers at Monmouth, came here from Tampa Bay Downs. In from Kentucky for the Arlington meet are Eddie Martin, who was to begin riding Thursday, and two riders for the well-known agent Steve Elzey, Rafael Mojica and Carlos Olivero.

Original Spin aimed for summer start

The plan was to give Original Spin a winter break, not a winter break and a spring break. That's the way things have worked out, but Original Spin is set to return to Arlington Park from a Kentucky farm next week, trainer Tony Mitchell said Wednesday.

Winner of the Arlington-Washington Lassie here late last summer and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Original Spin made her 3-year-old debut March 5 in the Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream, but ran terribly, finishing last of 10. Mitchell could find nothing physically amiss with Original Spin and took her to Keeneland, where it was discovered Original Spin was suffering from a hormonal imbalance that was keeping her in heat.

"It was kind of a freaky thing," Mitchell said. "We really just needed to get her through the spring. Now she's been training and she's back on track."

Mitchell said he "wanted to see where she's at" before pointing Original Spin to a specific race, but did say that the Aug. 19 Arlington Oaks was a major summer target.

Mitchell also is bringing along Original Spin's 2-year-old full brother, Divine Comic, who breezed three furlongs in 37.60 seconds Wednesday.

Casino funding looks delayed

A bill passed by both Illinois legislative bodies last week that could funnel as much as $36 million annually from four casinos into the racing industry might not be signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich until June, according to sources involved in the legislation.

The bill would take 3 percent of annual gross receipts from the four highest-grossing Illinois casinos and place it in the Horse Racing Equity Fund, from which 57 percent would go to Thoroughbred racing, 43 percent to harness racing. Within the breeds, 60 percent of the funds are earmarked for purses, with the other 40 percent going directly to track operators. Purses at Arlington would be raised soon after the bill became law.

Another shot for Mystery Giver

Mystery Giver finished last of eight Sunday in the Avers Wexler Stakes, his second start back from a layoff of more than a year and a half, but trainer Chris Block said he would give the 8-year-old Mystery Giver another try before considering permanent retirement.

"Has he lost his desire to race? They can't talk, so you don't really know," Block said.

Block, meanwhile, was pleased with the progress shown by Fort Prado, who had to be scratched from the Turf Classic on Saturday at Churchill because of a hoof abscess. Fort Prado, Block said, could resume training in the coming days.