11/15/2002 12:00AM

Nafzger barn can't get much hotter

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It hasn't much mattered what Carl Nafzger has sent out to run at the Churchill Downs fall meet, which began three Sundays ago. Maiden races, allowances, stakes - the only important thing is that Nafzger is listed as trainer.

With 10 wins from 20 starts, Nafzger is on a streak of the hottest kind. A former rodeo cowboy, Nafzger has been training Thoroughbreds for nearly 35 years, but he is hard-pressed to remember being on a roll quite like this.

"What can I say, we've got a lot of really nice horses right now," said Nafzger. Crediting longtime assistants Ian and Tracey Wilkes, he halfway kidded, "I just get out of their way and do some real good managing."

Nafzger, 61, won the Churchill Distaff last weekend with Softly and also has one of the hottest 2-year-old fillies in North America in his barn in My Boston Gal. And because of another dozen or so runners in peak form, his stable clearly is hitting on all cylinders.

By winning two races Thursday, Nafzger edged off to a two-win lead in the Churchill trainer standings over his nearest pursuers, Steve Asmussen and Dale Romans, both of whom have substantially more horses at their disposal than Nafzger, who has 35 horses stabled at Churchill. Yet Nafzger, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer in 1990, does not seem to care whether he wins a training title at this meet, which ends Nov. 30.

"We do our best to get them ready, then let the rest take care of itself," he said.

Old news is good news

Trainer Lynn Whiting was at a nearby auto-repair shop recently when the owner offered to sell him a bound edition of Daily Racing Forms from March and April 1947.

Intrigued, Whiting bought it, and since then has had a great time showing the book to friends on the backstretch. Indeed, some of the informational nuggets in the book are treasures.

There is a one-paragraph mention of Tom Smith, the trainer of Seabiscuit, being fined by the Churchill stewards for "failing to obtain permission to work his horse between the third and fourth races." Dutifully, the Form reports that the horse worked 1 1/4 miles in 2:09.20, handily.

There is a blurb about the legendary Walter Haight being elected president of the Maryland Turf Writers Association. There is a headline announcing the win by Faultless in the $10,000 Derby Trial. There is a two-race-old past performance for the great filly Bewitch, who was running in the Debutante Stakes during Kentucky Derby week. There are datelines from Havre de Grace, Pascoag Park, Douglas Park, Jamaica, and other long-forgotten tracks. There are selections from Form handicappers, with the pen name "Phar Lap" co-existing among the still-familiar Trackman, Analyst, Handicap, and Sweep.

But probably the best gem is one that Whiting uncovered with the help of prior knowledge. A horse named Float Me was entered April 29, 1947, at Suffolk Downs, and in his past performances was a running line that said he won a match race at Rockingham Park by "dis," i.e., he distanced his rival, Dinner Party.

"There was this sharpie, Bob Moore, a conniver and racetrack hustler who had Float Me, and he said, 'This is chicken dinner,' " said Whiting. "We'll hold my horse and bet on the other one, and only two people will know about it - me and the jock."

As Whiting tells the story, things went awry for Moore when Dinner Party's jockey, who was not in on the fix, went to hit him with a battery. The horse spooked and jumped over the inner rail, leaving Float Me all alone.

"That was an old story around New England when I was a kid," said Whiting.

o Churchill has begun using a countdown on all television monitors that alerts bettors to how many seconds they have to wager. The countdown is in five-second intervals. Churchill implemented a new policy Wednesday at all of its tracks wherein wagering is shut off with zero minutes to post.

o In regard to the recent query by churchilldowns.com writer Billy Reed, who proposed that the two dead heats within a five-race span at Churchill last weekend might have been a record, Arlington Park publicist Dave Zenner responded Friday with the following information: "On Aug. 29, 1980, there were back-to-back dead-heats for win at Arlington Park between Pocket Me and Miss Swing Time in the fifth race, and Queen of the Tribe and Silver Whistle in the sixth race."