06/09/2002 11:00PM

Late-runner Copper Belle in good

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CHICAGO - There has been no recent shortage of young ladies in Carl Nafzger's life. Fillies have flocked to him this year.

Nafzger's stable, split now between Churchill and Arlington, has a strong feminine influence. First came the vastly talented Belterra, an early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks before suffering a physical setback. Take the Cake won the Forward Gal and finished second in the Ashland; and Cordoba, still another 3-year-old, finished fifth in the Ashland.

Saturday, the rapidly improving 4-year-old Cat and the Hat just missed winning the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup, and there's a filly named Mayo on the Side that has won consecutive Churchill allowance races.

Want more? Watch for Copper Belle in Arlington's Wednesday feature, a second-level allowance race for fillies and mares. The 3-year-old Copper Belle won her first two starts by comfortable margins, and has a reasonable chance to pick up a third Wednesday.

Five others entered the six-furlong race, three of whom should show early speed, thus enhancing the chances of the late-running Copper Belle, who's owned by the Eaglestone Farm.

"She's just sort of a little hard-running filly," Nafzger said. "It's a little early to say how good she is. Winning a one-other-than [allowance] is one thing, but a two-other-than is something else."

Copper Belle's two starts were separated by six months because of a split injury she incurred while nearing a start this winter at Gulfstream Park. Now, there have been only a few weeks between races, and Copper Belle should run at least as well as she did May 19 at Churchill, provided she adapts to a new racing surface and environment.

Manhattan Now may be favored if betting action on trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's horses continues at the same frantic pace seen opening week. Manhattan Now, who won her maiden by almost eight lengths here last summer, returned from a long layoff and easily won a May 3 entry-level allowance at Bay Meadows. A habitual front-runner, Manhattan Now needs to shake loose from A Real Sweetheart and Wasted Wisdom or risk getting caught up in a taxing pace battle.

As for Nafzger, he already has been more active at Arlington than last summer, when he based a smaller string of horses here. Besides 13 horses he plans on sending to Saratoga, Nafzger has pulled out of New York this season to concentrate on this meet.

"It's a lot closer from Kentucky to Chicago than from Kentucky to New York," said Nafzger, who will have horses in Kentucky throughout the summer. "You can interchange your horses much easier."

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