'Buffy' Faces Eight in Del Mar Debutante

Undefeated Buffythecenterfold heads a field of nine scheduled to go postward Saturday in the premier 2-year-old filly race of the meeting, the $250,000, Del Mar Debutante (gr. I).

The daughter of Capote already has a grade III and grade II stakes victory in her saddlebag, the grade II coming in Del Mar's Sorrento Stakes in her most recent outing Aug. 10. The Mel Stute trainee will be ridden by regular rider Matt Garcia.

'Buffy,' owned by Allen Brian and Stronach Stables, won at first asking at Hollywood Park June 15, and followed that up with a win in the Landaluce Stakes (gr. III), also at Hollywood, before moving south to the seashore. She will carry high weight of 121, spotting her foes from four to eight pounds.

Trainer Mel Stute was pleased with Buffythecenterfold's five-furlong workout Tuesday as she finished preparations for the Debutante. "It was a very good work," Stute said. The Del Mar clockers caught her in 1:01 flat, with splits of :11 4/5, :23 2/5, :35 4/5, and :47 4/5.

Stute, who has Breeders' Cup victories with Brave Raj in the Juvenile Fillies and Very Subtle in the Sprint, believes that Buffythecenterfold is well ahead of those two champions at this stage of development.

He said what sets her apart from that pair is "this ability she has to finish. She finishes much stronger in all of her workouts than either of them did, and she's bigger and stronger, too."

Stute said the daughter of Capote is easy to train. "She does everything like an old horse, or better," the trainer said. "The first time I brought her to the paddock here, I thought she might get all washy, but she just walked over there like an old cow, and nothing bothered her."

Set to tackle the seasoned filly are one-time winners Santa Catarina, Indy Groove, Miss Houdini, Sea Jewel, Little Bit a Swiss, Ionia, and Honest Grade and a two-time winner in Europe but first-time starter in this country, Mac Melody.

Santa Catarina was a spectacular maiden winner from the Bob Baffert barn Aug. 11. The Unbridled filly, owned by Robert and Beverly Lewis, won by a widening eight lengths and earned a Beyer rating of 91, a notch better than "Buffy's" number for her win in the Landaluce Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park July 4.

Santa Catarina, with Mike Smith up, appears to be Baffert's best opportunity for scoring his fifth Debutante win in the past six years.

Baffert won three in a row with Vivid Angel, Excellent Meeting and Chilukki in 1997-99 and then with Habibti last year. Hofmans' Cindy's Hero captured the 2000 Debutante.

Here's the way they'll line up from the rail, with weights and riders: Ionia, 115, Kent Desormeaux; Sea Jewel, 115, Victor Espinoza; Miss Houdini, 115, Eddie Delahoussaye; Honest Grade, 113, Patrick Valenzuela; Santa Catarina, 115, Mike Smith; Mac Melody, 117, Laffit Pincay Jr.; Buffythecenterfold; Indy Groove, 113, Jesus Castanon; Little Bit a Swiss, 115, Alex Solis.