05/01/2002 12:00AM

Bella Bellucci latest defector from Oaks


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This will not go down as the happiest week in the life of trainer Neil Douglas Drysdale. First he had his courtesy car re-claimed by Churchill Downs. Then he had his Kentucky Derby contender, Sunday Break, excluded from Saturday's race because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes races. And then Wednesday morning, Drysdale was forced to scratch his outstanding 3-year-old filly Bella Bellucci from Friday's Kentucky Oaks.

"Very frustrating," Drysdale said Wednesday morning, when he let it known that Bella Bellucci would have to be scratched. Drysdale said he had routine blood work tests earlier this week on all of the horses he has stabled at Churchill Downs, and that two of them came back with results that were not satisfactory.

"She's a little imbalanced," Drysdale said of Bella Bellucci. "My fear is that she might get sick, so I'm being cautious. I'm afraid that if I ran her I'd knock her out."

Bella Bellucci has won 4 of 5 starts, including the Comely Stakes on April 14 at Aqueduct. She was considered one of the leading contenders for the Oaks. Drysdale said he did not know where Bella Bellucci would race next, because he first wants to make sure she is well.

Bella Bellucci's defection was the latest blow to strike the Oaks. The champion filly Tempera had to be euthanized last weekend after suffering from colitis and laminitis, and Belterra was not entered in the Oaks because trainer Carl Nafzger said she had not recovered sufficiently from recent throat surgery.

Outofthebox returns Saturday

Outofthebox, winner of last year's Grade 1 Super Derby, will make his 4-year-old debut in an allowance race on Saturday. It will be his first start since a ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Clark Handicap last November 23.

Flint had Outofthebox in training at Gulfstream Park, but the horse wrenched an ankle preparing for the Donn Handicap. Flint was hoping to get the horse back for the Gulfstream Park Handicap, but opted to give him the winter off instead.

"We gave him some extra time at the Gulfstream meet just for the fact we wanted to make sure he had a successful 4-year-old campaign and make a run at the Breeders' Cup,'' Flint said. "He's not 100 percent fit for this race, he's probably 90 percent. If he weren't to win, as long as he got a useful race, and got something out of it, we're looking for better things down the road.''

Flint said he would like to run Outofthebox in some of the handicap races at Belmont Park and Saratoga this summer.

"I think he'll like the one turn at Belmont and we know he likes Saratoga already,'' said Flint, noting that Outofthebox won an allowance race at Saratoga last summer.

Meanwhile, Flint had a perfect day Wednesday, winning with both of his starters, including the 2-year-old filly Stardust Bertie. A daughter of Devil's Bag, Stardust Bertie won a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race by five lengths, covering the distance in 51.97 seconds.

Flint said he would point Stardust Bertie to the Fashion Stakes at Belmont Park on June 6.

You can bet on it

Churchill Downs will offer a double wager linking the Oaks and Derby, a bet that has been offered since 1996.

The biggest price on the Oaks-Derby double was recorded in 1996, when Pike Place Dancer and Grindstone combined for a $182 payoff.

There is advance wagering on Saturday's Derby card, beginning Friday afternoon.

* The Derby long has been renowned as an event to attract celebrities, but this may be one of the strongest years ever. The "A" list of expected attendees includes such superstar musicians as *NSYNC, Darius Rucker, the Backstreet Boys (at least two members), Wynton Marsalis, and Travis Tritt; actors Matt Damon, John Travolta, and Dennis Hopper; film director Francis Ford Coppola; and sports personalities Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Warren Moon, and Rick Pitino.

* Belterra, who was not entered in the Kentucky Oaks because trainer Carl Nafzger felt she was not up to it, breezed five furlongs in 1:03.40 Wednesday at Churchill. Nafzger has not said what race he is looking at for the filly.

* One of the many fun things about this week is seeing what kind of paraphernalia people are sporting in support of their Derby favorites.

Normally, hats, buttons, and bumper stickers abound. Sometimes the slogan is straightforward, and sometimes there is a predictable play on words. Fairly typical of the shenanigans is a purple ballcap that surfaced this week, reading, "Promote the Private" on the front. On the back, in smaller letters, is "Go Private Emblem."

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee