05/24/2004 11:00PM

On take two, he gets the picture

Trainer Jason Orman is contemplating adding blinkers to Rock Hard Ten's gear.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The stubbornness that Rock Hard Ten showed when loading into the starting gate for the Preakness revealed itself in a different manner in his work at Belmont Park on Tuesday for the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 5.

Rock Hard Ten, with jockey Patrick Valenzuela in the saddle, broke off from the lead pony for a six-furlong work. About a furlong into the breeze, Valenzuela sensed that Rock Hard Ten was reluctant to continue the work and slowed the horse to a jog. Rock Hard Ten rebroke for try number two at the three-eighths pole and worked past the wire.

The Belmont clockers credited Rock Hard Ten with a half-mile work in 47.43 seconds, the second-fastest of 29 works at the distance. The clockers timed Rock Hard Ten galloping out five furlongs in 1:00.21. Jason Orman, Rock Hard Ten's trainer, said the colt was out six furlongs in 1:12.90. The track was listed as fast.

Valenzuela, who was aboard Rock Hard Ten for the first time, said: "He didn't get the work right away. He kind of likes the pony and refused. When he did work, he got into a good cruise and did it easy. It gave me a good clue of what kind of horse he is."

Orman said he wasn't rattled when the initial work was aborted.

"I saw him jog and I knew he was all right," Orman said. "This is the first time [he's done that]. He's a smart horse, always been a smart horse, and has a mind of his own."

Orman said he may equip Rock Hard Ten with blinkers and give him company for his final work for the Belmont Stakes on Monday. If he works well in blinkers, Orman said Rock Hard Ten might wear them in the Belmont.

Rock Hard Ten is coming off a second-place finish in the Preakness.

If he is permitted to ride, Valenzuela will have the mount on Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont. Valenzuela is awaiting an official ruling from the California Horse Racing Board on a suspension that is scheduled to begin on June 1. The suspension is for the rider failing to submit to a mandatory drug test in January. The suspension is for four months, but the California racing board gave Valenzuela credit for serving three months earlier this year.

Corey Black, Valenzuela's agent, was at Belmont on Tuesday, and said once the ruling is officially handed down, the rider will seek a continuance.

"I don't think the CHRB will grant a stay," Black said. "Our next recourse is to go to the court level. He's willing to take the suspension, but he wants to honor the commitment to ride Rock Hard Ten that he already had."

Van Trump: Smarty "really into it"

Exercise rider Pete Van Trump said Smarty Jones remains on top of his game as he prepares for the Belmont Stakes and his bid for the Triple Crown. Van Trump was aboard Smarty Jones shortly after 5:30 Tuesday morning when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner galloped a strong 1 7/8 miles on an empty Philadelphia Park racetrack.

Van Trump said Smarty Jones is training the same now as he has throughout the Triple Crown campaign.

"I've noticed no difference, except some days he'll throw in a little bit calmer and little kinder gallop," Van Trump said. "Did you see him this morning? He laid into me about the three-eighths pole, and he went around there as tough as he could be. This morning he was really into it."

John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, timed the final mile of the gallop in 2:04, a bit faster than the usual time for a mile gallop that is not considered a two-minute lick.

Smarty Jones is scheduled to work seven furlongs under jockey Stewart Elliott on Friday morning. Servis said Smarty Jones will break from the seven-furlong marker, which means his work will be around two turns. Servis hopes that by starting on the turn Smarty Jones won't go so quickly the first part of the work.

Servis and Van Trump pointed to an equipment change they made following the Feb. 28 Southwest Stakes that has really helped Smarty Jones in his training. In early March, Smarty Jones began wearing a German martingale, a piece of equipment that is attached to the breastplate and has reins that hook to the regular reins. The martingale is designed to keep a horse's head down while he trains.

"It turned him around," said Servis, who noted that he had tried a few other things first. "Now, he pulls, whereas he always pulled, but he'd try to throw his head up and run off and Pete wouldn't let him. What he would do is he'd be in the middle of a gallop and he'd just lunge and try to break [Van Trump's] hold. He was an accident waiting to happen. Now he pulls hard, which works for him, but he enjoys it."

Not that he needs the help, but following his Tuesday morning exercise, Smarty Jones received a blessing from Father Thomas Homa of Our Lady of Fatima Church, located next to Philadelphia Park.

"You've got special dispensation from the Pope," barn foreman Bill Foster said to Homa as he brought him in to pose for a picture with Smarty Jones.

* The Cliff's Edge had some liquid seep out of the coronet band of his right front foot Tuesday morning, according to trainer Nick Zito. The Cliff's Edge was forced to miss the Preakness Stakes because of a bruise to that foot, and his status for the Belmont is questionable. "He has good days and bad days," Zito said. "He must have really bruised that foot. I'll know by the weekend whether he can run.

I need to get a work into him."

* Ned Allard, trainer of Belmont Stakes longshot Tap Dancer, said his colt would likely work six furlongs at Philadelphia Park on Friday or Saturday and travel to New York next Thursday.

* Eddington walked the shed row Tuesday after his half-mile work at Belmont on Monday.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman

Belmont contenders

Horses for the 136th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5.

EddingtonM. HennigJ. Bailey3rd, Preakness
Rock Hard TenJ. OrmanP. Valenzuela2nd, Preakness
Royal AssaultN. ZitoP. Day1st, Sir Barton
Smarty JonesJ. ServisS. Elliott1st, Preakness
TapitM. DickinsonR. Dominguez9th, Ky. Derby
Possible entrants
BirdstoneN. ZitoE. Prado8th, Ky. Derby
PurgeT. PletcherJ. Velazquez1st, Peter Pan
Tap DancerN. Allard J. Castellano4th, Sir Barton
The Cliff's EdgeN. ZitoS. Sellers5th, Ky. Derby