06/26/2002 11:00PM

Belterra seeks return to top

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Many would have thought that by the end of June Belterra would have already established herself as one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country. Instead, Saturday's $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park offers Belterra a chance to play catch-up in a division with no clear-cut leader.

With Kentucky Oaks winner Farda Amiga still recovering from a virus, Ashland winner Take Charge Lady getting a 30-day break, Acorn winner You pointing to shorter races, and Comely winner Bella Bellucci dealing with a sore back, the 3-year-old filly division title is still open.

Those infirmities also left the Grade 1 Mother Goose with a five-horse field. Belterra, undefeated at 2, will be one of the favorites against Black-Eyed Susan winner Chamrousse, Bonnie Miss winner Dust Me Off, Nassau County winner Nonsuch Bay, and Seba, a listed stakes winner in England.

The Mother Goose, the finale on a 10-race card, is the final leg of the NTRA Summer Pick 3, which includes the Molly Pitcher from Monmouth and the Arlington Classic. CBS Sports will air all three races beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Belterra, a daughter of Unbridled, went 3 for 3 as a 2-year-old, including a dominant victory over Take Charge Lady in the Golden Rod. But she has been a disappointment this spring, with third-place finishes in the Bonnie Miss and Ashland.

Two days after the Ashland, Belterra underwent surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis, and did not rebound in time to make the Kentucky Oaks. Belterra returned to the races on June 6, winning a seven-furlong allowance at Churchill by 2 3/4 lengths.

Trainer Carl Nafzger said he is happy with Belterra entering the Mother Goose, but adds she needs to pick up her game.

"My main concern is if she steps up to where we want to step up to," Nafzger said.

Chamrousse comes off a 2 1/4-length victory in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico. She won that race on the front end, but trainer Niall O'Callaghan expects her to be stalking in this race.

"She doesn't seem to be a filly that would make the pace in a race like this," O'Callaghan said. "But, I don't anticipate her being too far back."

When left alone on the lead in the Bonnie Miss, Dust Me Off defeated Belterra and Nonsuch Bay. Dust Me Off, who comes off poor performances in the Nassau County and Acorn, looms the main speed here and will run with blinkers for the first time.

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