"She's ready," declared trainer Carl Nafzger after Take the Cake worked five-furlongs in 1:01 3/5 at Churchill Downs Monday in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks. But he continued to wrestle with the decision about whether or not to run Belterra, who underwent throat surgery on April 8 for an entrapped epiglottis. "Probably not" was as close as Nafzger would get to a final answer, saying that he still needed to talk with owner-breeder Robert Manfuso and look at the results of tests on blood drawn from the filly.
"She's doing fine," Nafzger said. "Every day she gets better. Every day her coat looks better. And every day she is training good. We're just missing a couple of little things. It's a question of whether she recovered from the surgery or not. She was under anesthesia. That will take a horse's punch away.
"The surgery has been a success. But our debate is this: Is the stress of a race like this going to set her back six weeks, or two months, or three months. Or will she be able to bounce right back? Also, there is this concern: What if she makes a move and her system just can't finish it and she ends up flat?"
Nafzger was pleased with what he saw Monday as Belterra galloped a mile with exercise rider Tracy Wilkes up. The lean daughter of Unbridled looked alert and eager, pulling hard on the reins as she rolled down the backstretch.
"She's galloping strong; she's hitting the ground strong," said Nafzger, as the filly began her exercise. At the end, Nafzger commented: "She went right into her jog; she never missed a beat. That's what you want to see."
Belterra captured the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall. This year, she has finished third in the Bonnie Miss and Ashland Stakes.
Nafzger said Belterra will work a half mile Tuesday if he decides to run her in the Oaks.
Wilkes was also on board Take the Cake, whose splits were :12 3/5, :25, :37 4/5, and :49 3/5. Her gallop out time was 1:15 3/5.
Take the Cake, a daughter of Fly So Free, has started four times this year, with her efforts included a victory in the Forward Gal Stakes and a second behind the powerful Take Charge Lady in the Ashland.
"She did it perfect," said Nafzger of Take the Cake's work. "She just went steady -- a nice, good, solid work. We gave her a break before Florida so we could get her ready to run in the Turfway Park race (the Bourbonette). But when she drew on the outside, I scratched her. It's a mile, and that turn is so tight. You open the gate and boom, you're in the turn. If you had to take a hold of her, she would end up 15 lengths behind and banged around. It was waste of time to go up there. So we had to bring her back in the Ashland, and it had been nearly eight weeks since she ran. And she did everything perfect in the Ashland. She relaxed good. She punched good. Maybe she wasn't as sharp as she could have been, but she executed perfectly. She did everything she needed to do to be ready for this race (the Oaks). And now she's trained real forwardly, and I'm very happy with her."
In addition to Belterra and Take the Cake, nine other fillies still are under consideration for the Oaks, according to Churchill Downs officials. They are Bella Bellucci, Farda Amiga, Habibti, Ile de France, Imperial Gesture, Ms. Brookski, Traci's Wild, Take Charge Lady, and You. Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said Monday that Chamrousse, who was under consideration for the Oaks, will be pointed instead for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico.