04/06/2003 11:00PM

Nafzger no stranger to ups and downs


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Just who was it that said racehorses will go hot and cold on a trainer?

Why, Carl Nafzger did, quite a few years ago.

"That's why I never get too high or too low," Nafzger said. "Soon as you do one or the other, things will turn right around on you."

Indeed, over the last five-plus months, Nafzger has personified the ups and downs of training horses. Last fall at Churchill Downs, Nafzger's horses earned a meet-high $683,659 by winning 14 races from 40 starts. People were saying he couldn't miss.

Then, this winter at Gulfstream, Nafzger suffered through an abysmal slump, winning just one race from 62 starts. People were saying he must have forgotten how to train.

"My horses can't run, and I can't train," Nafzger said. "Actually, it wasn't that bad a meet, since we sold off 20 horses, either privately or by claim. We had a few seconds and thirds in some of the bigger stakes, too."

While Ian and Tracey Wilkes are overseeing the top Nafzger horses that recently returned to Churchill, the trainer remains at Gulfstream, where he still has 14 horses.

"I'll be back up within a couple of weeks," Nafzger said.

Over the next week, Nafzger will be represented in Keeneland stakes races with arguably his two best horses. My Boston Gal runs Thursday in the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes, and Belterra runs next Wednesday in the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes.

With Pat Day riding her for the first time, My Boston Gal finished second to Ivanavinalot in the March 14 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream in her last start. She is one of maybe seven or eight 3-year-old fillies expected for the Beaumont, a Grade 2 race at seven furlongs and 184 feet. Day will ride again.

Nafzger said he hopes My Boston Gal will run well enough in the Beaumont to earn a berth in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks. My Boston Gal was unbeaten in three starts at 2 but has lost her first two starts this year.

"Pretty much everything will depend on how she does Thursday," Nafzger said.

Likewise, Nafzger is hoping to run Belterra back the day before the Kentucky Derby in the $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup.

Another top Nafzger-trained filly, Westerly Breeze, is at Oaklawn Park to run Friday in the Fantasy Stakes.

Asmussen wants a rematch

Steve Asmussen was a little disappointed after Lady Tak incurred her first career defeat Saturday when she finished second in the Ashland Stakes. But Asmussen pointed out that the winning filly, Elloluv, got an ideal front-running trip while saving ground, and things could unfold differently when they meet again in the Kentucky Oaks.

"We never were trying to protect our filly's unbeaten record," Asmussen said. "We wanted to try her against the best, and we're going to keep trying the big races with her. We'll take her back to Louisville and get her ready to run a big race in the Oaks."

Lady Tak will have Donnie Meche back aboard in the Oaks. Meche was scheduled to return to riding Thursday at Oaklawn Park after having served a 30-day suspension for a substance abuse violation. Corey Lanerie, who rode Lady Tak, teamed with Asmussen Sunday to win the Lafayette Stakes with Posse.

Arnold extends amazing streak

To some longtime Keeneland observers, it might seem like just a few years ago that a young trainer from Lexington appeared on the scene. Rusty Arnold was just 20 when he saddled his first winner in 1975 at Delaware Park.

Arnold, now 48, topped the Keeneland trainer standings at three different meets in the mid-1980's. In 1986, he set the record for most wins at a Keeneland spring meet with 13. The mark was broken in 1999 when Frank Brothers won 14 races. Arnold also has won six stakes races at Keeneland.

But perhaps his most remarkable feat came Friday, opening day of this 2003 spring meet: By winning the seventh race with Jaramar Rain, Arnold has won at least one race at each of the last 50 Keeneland meets, dating back to the Keeneland fall meet in 1978.

Sellers wins 50th Keeneland stakes

Another milestone was hit here opening day when Shane Sellers won his 50th Keeneland stakes race when he guided White Cat to a narrow win in the Transylvania. Only Pat Day, with 84, has more.

"I'm just thankful that I'm back riding, period," said Sellers, who last fall returned from a nearly two-year layoff after suffering a severe knee injury in December 2000. "Sometimes it's like I'm dreaming, because for a long time I thought I'd never ride again."

* Lilac Queen, an impressive winner here Sunday for trainer Bobby Frankel, probably will return in the $100,000 Bewitch Stakes April 24.

* Churchill Downs will have four clockers working from a press box command center in the weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby, when workout activity is particularly heavy and important. The clockers are Marty Metcalf, John Robertson, Sandy Montgomery, and John Nichols.