12/23/2008 1:00AM

Youth more seasoned every day


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Channing Hill drove to New York from Nebraska immediately upon graduating from high school, and he has never left.

After a solid apprentice year of 2005, in which he won 115 races on the New York Racing Association circuit and finished second to Emma-Jayne Wilson for the Eclipse Award, Hill was able to maintain enough business - and success - to make New York his permanent home.

With the tremendous changeover that occurs each winter here, Hill, despite being only 21 years old, now seems like one of the elder statesmen in the Aqueduct jockeys' room. Having enjoyed the best year of his career in 2008, Hill can only hope that he will now command the type of business that will enable him to elevate his status on this circuit on a year-round basis.

"It's just a matter of paying my dues," Hill said recently. "I felt like I've been here long enough to get good opportunities, but I still got to show people that I work hard and that I want to ride top horses. I think it's just going to be a matter of time."

Hill has made steady progress during his time in New York. In 2007, he was the 10th-leading rider on this circuit in wins with 93. Entering the final four days of racing in 2008, he ranks seventh in the NYRA standings with 122 victories. He has won eight races during the first two weeks of Aqueduct's inner-track meet, putting him one behind leader Ramon Dominguez.

Hill also made the most of his limited opportunities to ride top horses in 2008. Hill won nine stakes, including his first Grade 1 when he guided First Defence to victory in the Forego at Saratoga for Juddmonte Farms and Bobby Frankel. Hill's other graded wins came in the Stuyvesant (Dry Martini), the Athenia (Sunshine for Life), the Barbara Fritchie (Golden Dawn), and Black-Eyed Susan (Sweet Vendetta).

For Hill, the Black-Eyed Susan has been the biggest of his 473 career victories, because his father, Allan Hill won the same race aboard My Juliet in 1975.

"That was really special - he got to be there," Hill, a native of Columbus, Neb., said. "I made them drive from Nebraska to Maryland just for that reason - I wanted them to be there in case I won. I loved that filly. What a beautiful horse to ride."

The victory was one of 13 Hill has recorded for Gary Contessa this year. Contessa is the leading trainer on the New York circuit - and he dominates this time of year - so it is important for Hill to get into that barn.

Hill credits Steve Asmussen and his assistant Toby Sheets for using him after he lost his apprentice status in 2005.

"He just put me on hang-ons that just dragged me around there," Hill said of Asmussen. "Anyone could have won on them, but it showed people I still could win a race."

For the most part, Hill's success is tied in with trainer Mike Hushion, who has been a supporter of Hill's since his arrival here in late 2004. Hushion liked the fact that Hill was conscientious about saving ground and also liked the feedback he would get following a race.

"Of course, he's a pleasure to deal with. He's one of the nicer kids to come through the room over the years," Hushion said.

Hushion believes Hill has become a stronger rider over the years.

"I think he's a stronger finisher now than he was a year ago," Hushion said. "He's to the point where he's not going to let anyone push him around out there."

"Since losing the bug I feel like I've gotten a little stronger," Hill said. "My left hand's a little stronger, my whipping in general is a little stronger. I hope that I ride a smarter race now than when I had the bug."

For Hill to take the next step forward, he is going to have to get better mounts. Thirteen of his last 20 winners have paid $11 or more.

"I would like to see him ride more lower-priced horses and I'm sure he would, too," Hushion said.

While it is unlikely Hill will be able to compete with Dominguez for leading honors at this meet, he said his goal is to remain in the top three.

"There are a lot of very good-quality riders coming every day," Hill said. "Especially the young riders. Rajiv Maragh, he could be one of the best riders in the next couple of years. Rosie Napravnik, what's she done wrong in her career? Even Pablo Morales, he's riding a lot for Contessa. Even the apprentices are going to get a lot of business. Hopefully, if I just keep going out and try my best good things will happen."