11/21/2005 12:00AM

Nafzger to end daily training duties

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Bill Straus
Spinster winner Pampered Princess will return in Thursday's Falls City.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Carl Nafzger, who won the 1990 Eclipse Award for top trainer, is phasing out the day-to-day training aspect of his career while turning over his horses to longtime assistant Ian Wilkes and focusing his attention on the business aspects of operating a large stable.

Nafzger downplayed what the change means for him and Wilkes "because this basically is the way we've operated the last 18 months or so anyway," he said. "Ian has become the hands-on guy running everything at the barn, while I've kind of backed off to take care of some other things. Obviously it's been working. This just makes it official."

Nafzger said he is "not retiring from the business by any means - only changing titles. Ian deserves to be recognized for what he does. If we win the Kentucky Derby next spring, it's going to be with Ian down as trainer."

The first horse that will race with Wilkes listed as trainer will be Bootery, a 2-year-old filly who was scheduled to be entered Tuesday for a Thursday allowance at Churchill Downs. Nafzger said the transfer of all his horses from his name to Wilkes's will take full effect on Jan. 1.

"All the owners have been notified about what we're doing, and they're sticking with the program," said Nafzger.

Nafzger and Wilkes have formed a limited liability corporation as an umbrella for their cooperative business efforts. Nafzger said their arrangement is somewhat similar to what Ken McPeek and his assistant, Helen Pitts, announced in July. McPeek, a 20-year training veteran, handed over most of his stable to Pitts, and now those horses run in Pitts's name while McPeek handles other details, most notably the selecting and buying of horses for their clients.

Nafzger, 64, was a bull rider through his mid-20's before switching to training Thoroughbreds in 1968. His career peak came in 1990, when he won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic with Unbridled and his stable earnings exceeded $6.1 million. His stable did not fare nearly as well for several years after Unbridled was retired, but since 1998, when Banshee Breeze was the 3-year-old filly champion for Nafzger, his stable has averaged 42 wins and more than $2.5 million in earnings annually.

This year has been typical of that trend. Through Sunday, Nafzger has sent out 42 winners, and his stable's earnings stand at more than $2.1 million.

Wilkes, 40, and his wife, Tracey, initially came to the United States from their native Australia in 1989, with both going to work for Nafzger as exercise riders. Ian Wilkes was the regular exercise rider for Unbridled. The couple moved permanently to the U.S. in 1992. Tracey Wilkes also has worked for Nafzger throughout their time here.

Horses prep for last four stakes

Horses were out in droves for workouts in the past few days as they prepared for the four stakes that will close the Churchill fall meet this week.

The first of those races comes Thursday with the Grade 3, $300,000 Falls City Handicap. Pampered Princess, winner of the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes in her last start, will be back from south Florida to accept high weight of 123 pounds in the 1 1/8-mile Falls City.

Other fillies and mares likely for the Falls City include Bending Strings, 119 pounds; Girl Warrior, 118; Flying Glitter, 117; Indian Vale, 115; Miss Fortunate, 114; Journey Fever, 114; Kristy Beethoven, 114; La Reason, 114; Rahys' Appeal, 113; and Winning Season, 112.

Perfect Drift and Suave both work

Perfect Drift and Suave, the likely favorites for the Grade 2 Clark Handicap on Friday, both had five-furlong works over the weekend. Perfect Drift went in 1:02.40 on Saturday at Louisville Trackside, and Suave went in 1:01.40 the following morning at Churchill.

Perfect Drift and Suave finished just a half-length apart when third and fifth in the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Classic. They will be part of what is expected to be a big field in the $500,000 Clark.

The meet ends Saturday with the twin stakes for 2-year-olds, the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod.

Numbers up compared with last fall

No doubt helped by several days of huge pick-six carryovers last week, the pace of business at Churchill has been brisker than last fall.

Through 17 of 21 racing dates, all-sources handle has averaged $8,182,483 per program, an increase of 10.5 percent over the 2004 fall meet. Ontrack attendance and handle are averaging 7,291 and $1,044,042, up 6 and 5 percent.

Besides the pick-six carryovers, business has been boosted this fall by excellent weather and by the springtime completion of Churchill's $121 million renovation. The comparable figures for last year's fall meet include the Trackside simulcast annex, which was open because of the ongoing construction at Churchill.

Good week for unsung trainers

Several trainers who typically don't draw much fanfare enjoyed some memorable moments last week. David Carroll won two races Friday, then took Saturday's Caressing Stakes with the promising 2-year-old turf filly For Always. Richard Kohnhorst sent out back-to-back winners early on the Saturday card. And J.D. Crescini, a former protege of the late veterinarian Dr. Alex Harthill, had a rare training double Thursday with Miss Woodville ($18.20) and Peekabooheather ($85.20).

Top two from Cardinal both retire

Not only is Sundrop headed to the breeding shed, but so is the mare who followed her to the wire in the 32nd Cardinal Handicap on Saturday.

Sundrop, the Cardinal winner, was sent to Jonabell Farm on Sunday. Delta Princess, the runner-up, also is being retired, to Chanteclair Farm near Midway, Ky. Chanteclair is owned by Saud bin Khaled, who bred and owns Delta Princess.

Miss Jezebel an 87-1 shocker

The longest-priced winner of the meet came from out of the clouds to nail three maidens on the wire in the fourth race Sunday. Miss Jezebel, an 87-1 shot ridden by Phil Teator, passed five fillies in the final furlong to win her career debut.

Miss Jezebel, a 3-year-old by Thunder Gulch, is trained by Chuck Simon and owned by the Requiem Stable of Kim Schipke. She returned $176.20 to win.

Bridgmohan in tie for second

Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had a sensational Sunday by winning four races, including three in a row in the middle of the 10-race card. With 17 wins going into the final four-day stretch, Bridgmohan, riding his first full Churchill meet, is tied for second with Mark Guidry. Rafael Bejarano leads with 22 wins.

This is the first year that Bridgmohan has ventured away from the East Coast. This summer, he was the runaway leader at Arlington Park.

* Randall Toups, the 16-year-old Louisiana native who leads all apprentice riders at this meet with seven wins, is heading to Aqueduct for the winter, said agent Randy Romero. Toups will begin accepting mounts for the Nov. 30 program.

* Jockey David Flores rode his last race of the meet Sunday when he finished fourth on Honor in War in the River City. Flores is returning to Southern California to ride at Hollywood Park, said agent Brad Pegram. Flores rode regularly at Keeneland and Churchill for the first time this fall.