04/21/2002 11:00PM

Belterra 'looks great' after throat surgery

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Belterra, one of the top contenders for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, underwent corrective throat surgery after finishing third in her last start, but is expected to run in the Oaks.

"She's come back just the way we'd hoped," said Carl Nafzger, who trains Belterra for Bob Manfuso.

On April 8, two days after she finished third in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, Belterra underwent what is commonly known as "hook" surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis. Before the Ashland, rumors circulated that Belterra would be scratched because Nafzger and his everyday veterinarian, Dr. Rick Fischer, were concerned that the filly had been predisposed to entrapping, a condition in which the thin membrane lying below the epiglottis moves up and covers the epiglottis - a triangular-shaped cartilage that lies at the base of the airway - causing the air passage to be partially blocked.

"We scoped her after the Ashland, and she was entrapped," said Nafzger, who is based at Churchill Downs. "So we sent her back to Lexington to Rood and Riddle," the equine clinic where Dr. Rolf Embertson performed the surgery.

Fischer explained that the surgery is a simple one in which a hook knife is inserted through a nostril and is manipulated to reach behind the epiglottis, where it splits the fold of tissue that is causing the epiglottis to become entrapped. "The epiglottis then falls back where it's supposed to be," he said.

Nafzger said Belterra was able to return to training last week, having missed about 10 days following the surgery. "We even had her out for an easy half-mile breeze over the weekend," said Nafzger.

Fischer said Belterra has been "scoped three or four times" since the surgery and "looks great. We fully expect her to be at her best for the Oaks, unless something happens between now and then."

Belterra, an Unbridled filly who won all three starts last year at 2, ran third in the Bonnie Miss and Ashland in her lone attempts this year. She is one of at least 11 3-year-old fillies expected for the Oaks.

The others are Bella Bellucci, Chamrousse, Habibti, Imperial Gesture, Lake Lady, Ms Brookski, Take Charge Lady, Take the Cake, Tempera, and You.

Trifecta rule causing chaos

An administrative regulation that continues to thwart Kentucky horseplayers reared its head again Friday when a late scratch caused trifecta betting to be canceled just minutes before a race was run.

The incident occurred before the sixth race, an allowance race won by Saints Cup. Inside America was scratched in the post parade, leaving only five starters. Under Kentucky regulations, a race must have a minimum of six starters for trifecta betting to be permitted.

The main problem with the late cancellation is that dozens - if not hundreds - of bettors who are unaware that trifecta betting has been canceled, then discard their tickets, which obviously are redeemable. Surely the problem is even more pronounced at offtrack sites where announcements and television graphics are more easily missed.

In previous years, the regulation has caused considerable confusion and annoyance, not only in the event of a late scratch but also when a horse in a six-horse field is declared a non-starter because of a starting-gate or other in-race incident. In those cases, the cancellations are made after the race - a scenario that especially infuriates bettors who believe they are holding a winning trifecta ticket, only to be informed that they are merely entitled to a refund like everyone else.

The rule exists ostensibly to protect the betting public from larcenous acts that presumably would be easier to pull off with a small field. But Bernie Hettel, chief steward and executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission, said he believes the rule might eventually need to be revised.

"If we aren't serving the public properly, then we need to come to grips with this at some point," he said.

Derby Trial to draw eight or nine

Churchill vice president Donnie Richardson said Monday that he is expecting "maybe eight or nine" starters for the $100,000 Derby Trial, the one-mile race that helps kick off the Churchill spring meet on Saturday.

Cashel Castle, Mayakovsky, and Flying Dash are the likely favorites for the Grade 3 Derby Trial, which also is expected to get Clergy, Shah Jehan, Sky Terrace, and Governor Hickel.

* The annual Kentucky Thoroughbred Association awards luncheon will be held Wednesday at noon at Keeneland. The event honors the top horses and people in various categories in Kentucky in 2001.