11/21/2001 12:00AM

Better fill up on major stakes while you can

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - I plan to indulge this week in more than turkey and stuffing. Pure gluttony - that's what I'm talking about - not only at the Thanksgiving table, but also at the races.

I intend to get my fill of Kentucky racing now, knowing winter is just around the corner. With Churchill Downs ending its fall meet on Saturday, this week represents the last chance to see a major race in Kentucky for nearly four months, when Turfway runs the Spiral Stakes.

To put it mildly, the Saturday stakes at Churchill are eagerly anticipated. Thankfully, this isn't solely because of the timing, but also due to the quality of the fields.

Both the Kentucky Jockey Club, 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old colts and geldings, and the Golden Rod, at the same distance for 2-year-old fillies, feature runners that could become major players on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks trails.

Headlining the Kentucky Jockey Club is Repent, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile and runner-up to Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Although he ran very well in the Breeders' Cup, Repent hasn't generated much talk. Maybe it's because he ran only at Ellis Park and Turfway before the Breeders' Cup. Whatever the reason, horseplayers need to start paying attention to him.

He won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile - albeit in a weak field - with his ears pricked. Then he moved forward with the race of his life in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

A son of 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, Repent is quality distance horse. Not as precocious as Officer and other juveniles, he didn't break his maiden until he went a mile, and even then he won by only a nose.

Now two months later, he might be the best juvenile based in America. At least he was on Breeders' Cup Day, losing only to Irish invader Johannesburg.

He won't be a price in the Kentucky Jockey Club, but he merits watching to evaluate where he stands against the rest of the nation's top colts.

Repent is a non-hype horse, but the same can't be said for Belterra. A 2-year-old filly, Belterra will attempt to stretch her record to 3 for 3 in the Golden Rod.

Although she has won just a maiden and an entry-level allowance race, she is already widely considered a Kentucky Oaks prospect.

The reasons are clear. She displayed heart to gamely break her maiden at Keeneland, then awed observers with a 10-length victory in a mile allowance at Churchill.

Now handicappers will see where she stands in regard to class and distance.

"It's going to be a real test for her because there's going to be a lot of experience in there," trainer Carl Nafzger said earlier this week. "We're going to hook some top fillies and we don't have to win this race to be a top filly."

He's right. She doesn't. A couple years ago an inexperienced Secret Status ran third in this race, then built upon that effort to win the Kentucky Oaks the following spring.

Belterra seems further advanced than Secret Status at this point. And the opponents she'll likely face in the Golden Rod - Alcibiades winner Take Charge Lady, Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Joanie's Bella, and Pocahontas winner Lotta Rhythm - are a cut below the best.

Can Belterra go two turns? She should, being by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. But she is also a half-sister to Royal Haven, who was mostly a sprinter. He won the Grade 2 A Phenomenon and Fall Highweight in 1997.

Regardless of how she performs, I plan to be there to find out about her distance ability. She and Repent are reasons enough to be at Churchill on Saturday. Neither will offer a price, but for a fan of horse racing, their promise isn't to be missed - not with a long Kentucky winter ahead.