03/15/2002 1:00AM

Jerkens filly upsets Belterra


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Allen Jerkens glanced over at the 3-5 favorite Belterra as the horses were leaving the paddock for Friday's $250,000 and said, "That filly just might be in another league."

And then as he has done so many times over the years, Jerkens went out and beat an odds-on favorite, this time Belterra - slaying the giant with Dust Me Off, who led throughout and held off a couple of challenges in a 3 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss.

"Like everybody else, I thought if she [Belterra] was ever going to get beat, today would be the day," said Jerkens, alluding to the fact that Belterra was making her first start in nearly four months."

Dust Me Off paid $18. She covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.67 over an extremely fast track.

Dust Me Off set the pace while kept well off the rail by jockey Mark Guidry. She repulsed a challenge from Stormy Frolic around the second turn, came out a bit further while getting tested by Nonsuch Bay into the stretch, then pulled away convincingly in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Nonsuch Bay, who like Belterra entered the race unbeaten, eased outside to engage Dust Me Off approaching the quarter pole, but proved no match in the final furlong. Belterra rated within easy striking distance but lacked a closing response while finishing a half-length behind Nonsuch Bay.

Miu Miu, Ms Brookski, and Stormy Frolic rounded out the order of finish.

"She probably got a little late in her first race back," said Carl Nafzger, trainer of Belterra, who had no started since Nov. 24. "We had no trouble. I thought she ran a good race."

The Bonnie Miss was the third victory in four starts for Dust Me Off, a daughter of With Approval, whose only defeat came on the turf in her 3-year-old debut.

"She got into some trouble when I ran her on the turf, but really didn't surge forward like a good grass horse would after recovering," Jerkens said. "She's nominated to the Ashland but I'll probably point her to the filly races [Triple Tiara] in New York."

The Bonnie Miss was the second upset engineered by Jerkens on Friday's card. Earlier the Giant Killer sent out Justification to defeat favorites Baseball Champion and This Fleet Is Due in an allowance.