11/28/2002 12:00AM

My Boston Gal gets class, distance tests in Golden Rod


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The similarities are remarkable. Last year, Belterra won a maiden race at Keeneland for trainer Carl Nafzger and an allowance at Churchill Downs before staying unbeaten with a victory in the Golden Rod Stakes.

This year, Nafzger is back in the Golden Rod with a filly who started her career by winning a Keeneland maiden race and a Churchill allowance - My Boston Gal, who has been so spectacular that she has become the talk of the Churchill backstretch.

"This race will tell a lot," said Ian Wilkes, Nafzger's longtime assistant. "Hopefully, we'll get the same result as last year."

Wilkes, who has handled most of the Nafzger barn's day-to-day chores at the Churchill meet since his boss recently departed for Gulfstream Park, where the stable has another string of horses, said My Boston Gal has been training "like a top filly" since her breathtaking victory in a Nov. 8 allowance.

"This is her first try at two turns and her first stakes, so you never know until they step up and do it," said Wilkes. "At the same time, she is very exciting, so we're hopeful she can win again."

There have been a number of seven-figure offers for My Boston Gal, a Boston Harbor filly who cost her four-man partnership only $95,000 at auction, but Nafzger has steadfastly maintained that she is not for sale.

Given her gaudy reputation, there is little doubt that My Boston Gal will be a solid favorite in the Golden Rod, Churchill's Saturday co-feature with the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. A field of eight was entered in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile race, including Belle of Perintown and Star of Atticus, the one-two finishers in the Pocahontas Stakes four weeks ago.

The rest of the Golden Rod field is Moonlight Sonata, Red Cell, Holiday Lady, Jodys Deelite, and My Trusty Cat.

Red Cell, fourth in the Pocahontas, might be the sleeper of the group, especially if a fast pace sets up the kick that she seems to be developing for trainer Dave Vance.

The Golden Rod, named for the Kentucky state flower, dates to 1910. It goes as the ninth of 12 races on the closing-day program.

McPeek remains fond of bargain runners

For years, trainer Ken McPeek had a limited amount of spending capital when attending auctions of yearlings and 2-year-olds. The first horse for whom McPeek ever paid more than $200,000 was Repent, a colt who wound up winning several graded stakes and became an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. McPeek bought Repent for $210,000 for Jerry and Feye Bach in 2000.

Inevitably, as his profile has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, McPeek has assumed the training of more expensive horses. He even traveled recently to Brazil, where he spent several days looking at prospective imports. "I saw maybe 20 group winners," he said. "We're trying to put a deal together for one of their champions."

But when he runs three horses Saturday in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, McPeek might be rooting most of all for Collateral Damage, whose purchase price was a mere $4,000.

"Those kinds of horses were my bread and butter for years," said McPeek.

Lumpkins says 'Go!' His mount says 'No.'

Jason Lumpkins got a rude welcome in his first day of riding on the Kentucky circuit.

Lumpkins was aboard the first-time starter Thunderama in the sixth race Wednesday when the gates opened. Problem was, Thunderama, a 12-1 shot, didn't budge. The mount was the third of the day for Lumpkins, a former leading rider on several circuits, most recently northern California.

Lumpkins recently purchased a large tract of land between Louisville and Turfway Park, where he plans to ride throughout the four-month holiday-winter meet that begins Sunday. Lumpkins, whose book is handled by Steve Elzey, could challenge for leading rider there.

Apprentice rider John McKee, who won the Turfway fall meet title, surely would have been a big favorite to be leading rider again, but he is moving to New York for the winter and is scheduled to begin riding at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

Turfway to close betting windows early

In response to the new wagering security measures that many tracks have implemented in recent weeks, Turfway will close its pools as soon as the first horse enters the gate.

Turfway president Bob Elliston called the new policy a "proactive measure to reassure the public that we are committed to protecting them and the integrity of the sport."

* Solvig, a multiple stakes-winning turf mare for Nafzger, ran the final race of her career Thursday when she finished fourth in the fifth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance. The purse earnings for running fourth were just enough to push her over the $800,000 mark. Solvig, a 5-year-old owned by Bentley Smith, "was a lot of fun for all of us," said Wilkes.