12/14/2002 12:00AM

Jock race: Sure thing now battle

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MIAMI - After winning 20 races during a six-day span in late November, including a track record-equaling six winners on Nov. 24, jockey Cornelio Velasquez appeared to have clinched his second straight Tropical-at-Calder riding title.

But what appeared to be a runaway win has turned into a tight race since Eibar Coa went on a hot streak of his own this month. Coa, a three-time Tropical and seven-time overall Calder jockey titlist, won five races, including three stakes, on the Dec. 7 Grand Slam I program. He continued to have a hot hand throughout the week and pulled to within two victories of Velasquez entering last weekend.

The 2002-2003 Tropical meeting ends on Jan. 2.

Strong older female division

The older filly and mare division figures to be one of the strongest in recent memory in south Florida this winter. Among those expected to compete this season are Allamerican Bertie, Nonsuch Bay, and trainer Carl Nafzger's pair of Softly and Belterra.

Softly closed out her 2002 campaign by finishing third to Allamerican Bertie and Take Charge Lady in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs. A daughter of Binalong, Softy won 6 of 12 starts this season, including the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, while earning nearly $350,000 for owner-breeder James Tafel.

Softly is one of 29 horses trainer Nafzger will have stabled at Gulfstream. Nafzger, who finished second behind Ken McPeek in the trainers' race at Churchill this fall, has also taken an additional 16 stalls at Palm Meadows Training Center in lieu of sending a second division to Fair Grounds as he did last winter.

Joining Softly here this winter will be Nafzger's two top juvenile filly prospects My Boston Gal and Westerly Breeze; the promising 2-year-old colt Affable; and veteran sprint specialist Binthebest.

* Take Charge Lady, fresh off her victory in the Great State Challenge Distaff, is currently stabled at Gulfstream but is scheduled to ship out later this week for a well deserved four- to six-week freshening on the farm. She will return to training with McPeek this winter, but it is uncertain whether she will launch her 2003 campaign before the stable returns to Kentucky this spring.

* Nonsuch Bay and her stablemate Windsor Castle were the two most prominent names on the list of more than 100 horses who worked at Gulfstream on Saturday. Nonsuch Bay covered five furlongs in 1:00, while Windsor Castle went the same distance in 1:01.60.

Nonsuch Bay is a possible starter in Saturday's $100,000 Frances A. Genter Handicap on the Calder turf, while Windsor Castle is a potential candidate for the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap the following weekend.