05/16/2003 12:00AM

Alpenfest takes stakes test


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Alpenfest created a buzz when he won a maiden race at Hollywood Park May 1. Making his career debut, Alpenfest scored a three-length victory at 4 1/2 furlongs, one of the more impressive performances by a juvenile this spring.

How Alpenfest compares to other recent 2-year-old winners will be tested Sunday when Alpenfest starts in the $75,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes. Run at five furlongs, the Proctor is restricted to non-winners of two races.

Of the nine entrants, only one has started against winners - Tunder Ponche finished third in the Mockingbird Stakes at Gulfstream Park April 24. Seven won maiden races in their last starts, and Genuine Count is winless in three starts.

Alpenfest races for breeder Heinz Steinmann and trainer Mike Harrington, whose stable has done well with 2-year-old sprinters.

Alpenfest breaks from post 6 and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

"I was impressed with the way he won the first time," Harrington said. "Obviously, this is tougher. He's still a long way from revealing his potential.

"I think he's moved forward. He's a funny horse in that he's still a little immature."

In his maiden win, Alpenfest was second early and did not take the lead until early stretch. Espinoza will certainly try to maintain position early, but could face pressure from three runners who won two-furlong maiden races at Santa Anita - Double Belvedere, Gambling Rent, and Temecula Wind.

Of that trio, Double Belvedere was the most impressive winner, scoring by two lengths in 21.92 seconds April 3. Alex Solis was aboard for the maiden win and keeps the mount.

Harrington also starts Queen's Counsel, who won a maiden race for $35-40,000 claimers April 23 as the favorite. Harrington considers Queen's Counsel to be an outsider compared to Alpenfest.

"He's probably shown as much potential as he's got," Harrington said.

Alpenfest, This Cats Smokin, and Tunder Ponche are expected to be short prices.

This Cats Smokin won his maiden debut against California-breds April 23, rallying from sixth to win by three-quarters of a length.

Tunder Ponche makes his California debut in the Proctor following three starts over 18 days at Gulfstream Park in April.

Tunder Ponche, now trained by Mike Mitchell, made all of his Florida starts at three furlongs. He finished fifth in a maiden race April 6, won a maiden claimer April 18, and finished third in the Mockingbird Stakes April 24.