05/08/2002 12:00AM

Cordoba Nafzger's best shot


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Early last month at Keeneland, Carl Nafzger ran not one, not two, but three fillies in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes.

The Ashland was won by Take Charge Lady, but Nafzger was all smiles afterward because of how well his fillies had performed: Take the Cake finished second, Belterra was third, and Cordoba was fifth.

Since then, however, the promise of the Ashland has yielded little but disappointment.

Several days after Take the Cake ran fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, Nafzger announced she had chipped a knee and would be sidelined for the rest of the year.

Belterra did not even run in the Oaks, having failed to respond to her trainer's satisfaction to throat surgery performed after the Ashland.

"We're still playing everything by ear with her," Nafzger said earlier this week. "I don't have her back quite the way I want."

So, for the time being, Nafzger's remaining bullet is Cordoba, the least accomplished of the trio. On Friday at Churchill Downs, Cordoba will make her first start since the Ashland by taking on six other fillies and mares in the ninth-race feature, a $46,800 allowance at one mile.

Cordoba, a two-time winner from five career starts, won an allowance race at Gulfstream leading up to her respectable Ashland showing. Owned by Buckram Oak Farm, Cordoba, by Unbridled, rallied strongly in that March 10 race to prevail by a widening 1 1/2 lengths.

Cordoba will be coupled for wagering purposes with yet another Nafzger filly, Lead Story, yielding six betting interests in the feature. The others entered are Reason to Talk, Charmed Gift, About Respect, Unfurled, and Town Queen.

Earlier Friday, a $41,600 race for maiden special weights is scheduled for the grass, which is a departure from previous Churchill policy.

Except for certain days, such as the day before the Kentucky Derby, the turf course had been off-limits for all racing on Fridays. But with Doug Bredar hired as racing secretary, that policy has been discarded.

"It had been a matter of maintenance, mostly concerning the inner rails and such," said Bredar. But with the help of track superintendent Butch Lehr, "we've found a way around that," said Bredar.

Also carded for Friday is a $22,000 starter-allowance (race 3), in which Milan Taizen, Papa M and M, Excon, and Storm Cruiser figure as contenders. Bredar has said his tenure would include a greater variety of starter events.

First post is 3:10 p.m.

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