04/22/2005 12:00AM

Smith will ride at Churchill for spring meet


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Mike Smith said Friday that he will ride on a daily basis throughout the Churchill Downs spring meet, signaling a major shift in a Hall of Fame riding career that has gone full circle, from the Midwest to New York to Southern California and now back to the Midwest.

Smith, 39, said he is trying to rejuvenate a career that had stagnated in recent months in Southern California.

"I hadn't been riding much over at Santa Anita, and as everybody knows, the fields are pretty short right now in California, which limits the opportunities for all the riders," he said. "I love Kentucky, and I thought it would be a good idea to spend the spring here."

Smith is one of numerous big-name jockeys currently riding at Keeneland, but after the Kentucky Derby is run May 7, only a few of them will hold over for the duration of the Churchill meet, which runs April 30 to July 10. Smith will be part of a colony that also will include Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, John McKee, and Brian Hernandez Jr., along with Pat Day, who is recovering from hip surgery.

"We've been seeing the trainers, checking with everybody, really trying to get things stirred up for the Churchill meet," said Smith, whose agent is Brad Pegram. "We'd like to build up our business and head back to Del Mar with a lot of momentum." Del Mar begins July 20.

Smith began his career in 1982 in his native New Mexico, eventually moving to bigger Midwest tracks before going to New York in 1989. His career peaked in the early and mid-1990's before he moved his tack to Southern California in 2001.

Smith's move to Kentucky leaves the Southern California jockey colony with none of the three Hall of Famers who had been active there this winter. Gary Stevens, who also is riding at Keeneland, will be moving to Belmont after the Derby, while Kent Desormeaux has been riding primarily in Japan recently.

Wild results for dime supers

The introduction of 10-cent superfectas at Keeneland has produced some interesting results so far. There already has been at least one instance, the first race on April 9, when no winning tickets - even for a dime - were sold; winners were paid for an "all" in the fourth position. And the mutuels department reported that $1.70 worth of winners was purchased on the last race Wednesday, with each dime returning $5,564.22.

Inevitably, a result will be posted that will have fans doing double-takes. If someone sweeps the entire pool with a dime ticket, the $2 payoff could read something like $2 million - even though the actual payoff would only be $100,000, or 1/20th of the $2 payoff.

Keeneland spokesman Jim Williams said mutuels officials are in the process of conducting a thorough analysis to determine whether the dime increments have led to a significant handle increase.

Ben Ali tops meet's final days

The final three-day stretch of the Keeneland meet will be highlighted by the $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes, which will be run Thursday for the 75th time.

Eurosilver and Alumni Hall are among the probable starters for the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali. Trainer Nick Zito nominated six horses to the race and figures to run one or two, with Pies Prospect being the most accomplished of that group.

The other stakes on closing weekend are twin turf marathons: the $100,000 Bewitch, for females, on Wednesday, and the $200,000 Elkhorn, for males, on Friday.