11/05/2001 12:00AM

Buff still going strong at age 6

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No wonder racing fans say they have favorite horses. Old warriors like Buff never seem to go away, their reliability exceeded only by their desire. Buff has been a fixture at Churchill Downs since early in his 3-year-old season, when he developed into a successful turf specialist for Frank Brothers by winning the Jefferson Cup.

On Wednesday, the familiar mane and tail of a 6-year-old Buff will be back on the Matt Winn turf course as part of a solid cast of older horses in the eighth-race feature. The one-mile, $59,800 allowance also drew such stalwarts as Northcote Road and Dernier Croise, stakes winners whose credentials make them solid threats in a full field.

Buff, owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, has done much of his best racing at Churchill. Besides his Jefferson Cup win, he returned in the fall of his 3-year-old year to finish second in the River City Handicap to the highly accomplished Wild Event. At 4, he was beaten only a nose by Chorwon in the Louisville Handicap, and last year at 5 he won the Louisville.

Buff, to be ridden by Calvin Borel, has an on-or-near-the-pace running style that should serve him well Wednesday. During weekdays, track superintendent Butch Lehr typically sets temporary turf rails out well onto the course, which some handicappers believe generally favors speed horses because of the shorter straightaways.

Northcote Road, trained by William "Blackie" Huffman, could pull the minor upset, although this race could be a prep for the Fair Grounds meet, where Northcote Road tends to have his most success.

A field of 11 was entered, but if the race stays on turf, only nine will start, since Karly's Harley and Horrible Evening were entered as main track only. From the remaining nine, Four on the Floor and Cocktails and Lies form a stable entry for Elliott Walden, meaning there will be a maximum of eight betting interests.

Two other allowance races also are carded for Wednesday. The fifth, which carries a $46,800 purse, should have Kiss the Devil, already stakes-placed, as a solid favorite for trainer David Vance in a second-level turf allowance. The seventh, a $42,900 entry-level race at 7 1/2 furlongs, marks the second start for Santa Rosa Island, who won her career debut at Keeneland last month with a frantic late rush for trainer Walt Bindner.

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