11/01/2001 1:00AM

Joanies Bella set to break through


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - She has done it in Ohio. She has done it in Illinois. On Saturday, after two defeats in two starts at Churchill Downs, Joanies Bella will try to finally win a race in Kentucky as one of the favorites in the $100,000 Pocahontas Stakes.

Based in Cleveland with trainer Tim Hamm, Joanies Bella has been something of a Midwestern terror this year, winning four stakes, including the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie and the Bassinet Stakes at River Downs. At the spring meet at Churchill, Joanies Bella was fifth in an allowance race and fourth in the Debutante Stakes, which demonstrates how much progress she has made in recent months.

Seven other 2-year-old fillies will oppose Joanies Bella in the 33rd running of the one-mile Pocahontas. Craig Perret, who was riding at River for the first time when he rode Joanies Bella in the Bassinet, will be back aboard Saturday.

A handful of other promising fillies will oppose Joanies Bella, who will break from post 1. Those primary challengers include Cunning Play, third in the Grade 2 Alcibiades Stakes in her last start; Speed to Burn, third in the Astarita at Belmont in her latest; and Honest Deceiver, a two-time winner in three starts for trainer Elliott Walden.

The male counterpart to the Pocahontas, the $100,000 Iroquois, is set for Sunday. At least eight 2-year-olds, led by Cradle Stakes winner Harlan's Holiday, are probable for the Grade 3, one-mile Iroquois.

Lucky charm works for Woods again

Three times in the last three-plus years, veteran jockey Charlie Woods Jr. has been forced to take lengthy layoffs because of injuries. And each time he returned, his first winner back came for trainer Donnie Habeeb Jr.

In the first race Thursday, Woods won again for Habeeb when guiding Oxmoor Woods to a $21.20 upset. Woods, 50, had not ridden since July after being sidelined with shoulder and rib injuries.

In July 2000, the first win for Woods after a two-year layoff came on Oz the Almighty at Ellis Park. Last spring, his first win after a six-month layoff came on Mandy Jud.

Habeeb, who trains a small string at Churchill, feigned being worn out by the heavy burden of carrying Woods. "I don't know how many more times I can do this," he said with fake disgust.

Nafzger finds an early bloomer

When Belterra won at first asking last month at Keeneland, trainer Carl Nafzger suspected he might have his next stakes horse. Nafzger is not known for winning with a high percentage of his first-time starters.

"It's not that we stop them from winning," said Nafzger. "We just let them go along at their own pace. Most of my good horses, like Unbridled, Vicar, Coolawin, on down the line, they all won first out."

So after Belterra, a 2-year-old Unbridled filly owned by Bob Manfuso, crushed a decent field of entry-level allowance runners here Wednesday to run her record to 2 for 2, Nafzger was excited.

"We'll go after the Golden Rod," the top divisional race here Nov. 24, "then on to Florida," he said.

'Banned' film finally shown

As work proceeds on Churchill's $127 million rebuilding project, and long-forgotten nooks and crannies of the cavernous grandstand and clubhouse are readied for demolition, track officials expect to occasionally find the sort of ancient treasures that director of operations David Sweazy uncovered recently.

Behind a seldom-used mutuel line, Sweazy found a large box of old movies of past races at Churchill, including a 35-mm film of the 1972 Kentucky Derby, won by Riva Ridge.

Also in the box were patrol films of far less memorable races, including a mysterious 16-mm film labeled with red handwriting, "Not To Be Let Out."

After screening the film Thursday, Churchill publicity officials and other interested press-box observers saw what no television viewers of the day were permitted to see: A brutal six-horse spill at the half-mile pole in the third race on Nov. 22, 1973.

Chief steward Bernie Hettel said he still remembers the race. "It was won by a horse trained by Morris Fife Sr., but I can't remember his name," he said.

Asked about how the race remained out of the public eye, Hettel said: "Things were a little different back then than they are today."

Favorite cruises in turf allowance

The Knight Sky, the slight favorite in a field of nine, led virtually all the way in dominating the Thursday feature, a $59,800 allowance for older turf horses.

Ridden by Jon Court and trained by Chuck Simon, The Knight Sky paid $8.40 after finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.72. The winner is a 5-year-old Sky Classic gelding owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

Ask the Lord chased the pace throughout and finished second, while Mi Sierra rallied late to be third.