07/16/2005 11:00PM

Smokume wins Tom Fool Handicap

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens generously credits jockey Chantal Sutherland with helping develop Smokume into an improving stakes sprinter.

Sutherland and Smokume ($12) were an unbeatable combination Sunday in the Grade 2, $150,000 Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont Park.

Smokume, now 3-for-4 since Sutherland starting riding the 4-year-old gelding this season, won by one length over Willy o'the Valley on the sealed, sloppy track. Clever Electrician was third.

Smokume ran the seven furlongs in 1:21.92.

Slower works helped unlock Smokume's potential.

"He's getting stronger with slower works," Jerkens said. "He was working too fast before. She's been galloping him strong and we thought it would work out. Today it did."

Sutherland, a two-time apprentice champion in Canada, appreciates the opportunity Jerkens has extended to a newcomer.

"This is everything you've dreamed of and it's starting to unfold," Sutherland said of her first U.S. graded-stakes win. "Hopefully the ball keeps going."

Sutherland works with Smokume every day, even if only to take him for walks.

"I've tried to relax him," Sutherland said. "He trusts me a little bit more. He's one of those nervous horses that really wants to do it. Now he's starting to calm down."

Smokume settled nicely along the inside behind the pace set by longshot Gadace's Khamseh. Sutherland kept her horse within a half-length of the leader and put that rival away turning for home.

Smokume drifted a bit in the lane but kept to the task when Willy o'the Valley made a late run.

"He's never been this calm," said Sutherland. "He was very relaxed today. When I asked him, he gave me more than I expected."

Jerkens will now point Smokume to the Grade 2, $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on Aug. 13 at Saratoga.