Unbeaten 'Buffy' Faces Stern Test in Debutante

The undefeated two-time stakes-winning Buffythecenterfold will face her sternest test yet Saturday in the 52nd running of the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) for 2-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on the main track.

Buffythecenterfold, owned by Allen Brian and Stronach Stables, scored her third career victory when she came home three-quarters of a length ahead of Tricks Her in Del Mar's Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) Aug. 10. That marked the third time that pair had finished one-two in a race.

Tricks Her, who still is a maiden, could take her on again in the Debutante.

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. Matt Garcia was in the irons for the work and will ride again on Saturday.

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."

Chief among those who might cause her connections some concern in the Debutante is Santa Catarina, 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 Deb.

Other prospects for the race include Ionia, a maiden winner here; La Bella Reina, who broke her maiden at the seaside under claiming conditions; Little Bit A Swiss, who was third in the Landaluce; Miss Houdini, who returns from an infection following her maiden win at first asking at Hollywood Park; Indy Groove, who finished third in the Sorrento, and Sea Jewel, a maiden winner at Del Mar.