08/26/2002 11:00PM

Buffy may make Debutante after all


DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Mel Stute wanted to see Buffythecenterfold work well on Tuesday at Del Mar, but he was just as concerned about her condition immediately after the drill. So when jockey Matt Garcia brought the filly back to the barn, Stute asked, with hope in his voice, "No coughing?"

"No," Garcia replied.

And with that, Stute continued to hold out hope that Buffythecenterfold would make Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante, in which she would be one of the top choices.

Buffythecenterfold became ill after winning the Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 10, and her status for the Debutante, a Grade 1 race for 2-year-old fillies, has been uncertain. Tuesday's work was crucial. Buffythecenterfold worked five furlongs in 1:01.

"I'm a little disappointed in the way she went off. She went off slowly," Stute said. "But she finished well. And the most important thing is she didn't cough.

"I feel pretty confident against the group she's going to run against. She's beaten most of them," Stute added. "But there's a couple of new players."

Most significant of that bunch is Santa Catarina, who was an impressive winner against maidens in her last start, and came back with a fast workout on Monday for trainer Bob Baffert.

Others expected for the Debutante include Indy Groove, Little Bit a Swiss, Miss Houdini, Sea Jewel, and Tricks Her.

Chalk one up for Kristin Mulhall

When Atarama rallied to win Monday's featured seventh race, she provided her trainer, Kristin Mulhall, with the first victory of her nascent career.

Mulhall, 20, is the daughter of Richard Mulhall, a former trainer who is now the president of The Thoroughbred Corporation. Kristin Mulhall, who has been training on her own for three months, has a public stable that currently numbers 15 horses, of which six, like Atarama, are owned by The Thoroughbred Corp.

Atarama, a 3-year-old filly, had won once in seven previous starts in Great Britain. Kristin Mulhall said the filly was brought to the United States because she had become a bleeder, and could be treated here with Lasix, which is not allowed in Europe.

"I just got her at the beginning of the meet," Mulhall said. "It feels great to get my first win."

Sky Jack points to Cal Cup

Sky Jack, who faded to finish 11th after setting a hot pace in Sunday's Pacific Classic, will be rested until the California Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, according to his trainer, Doug O'Neill.

"Cal Cup, here we come," said O'Neill, who said having two months between starts would benefit Sky Jack.

Sky Jack scored the biggest victory of his career in July in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He won the California Cup Classic two years ago, before being sidelined with knee surgery and colic.

Go Go gone

The popular mare Go Go has been retired because of a worsening bleeding condition, according to trainer Warren Stute. Go Go finished fourth in Sunday's Rancho Bernardo Handicap, and bled through her nostrils despite being treated with Lasix.

"We can't stop her from bleeding," Stute said. "We're doing the same things we were doing last year, when we controlled it, but this year, the same things can't control it."

Go Go, a 5-year-old mare by Falstaff, won 9 of 19 starts and more than $600,000. She won several graded stakes, including the Las Flores Handicap at Santa Anita, and the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Joey Franco comes back hot

Earlier this spring, Joey Franco appeared to be an up-and-coming 3-year-old for trainer David Hofmans. He was sidelined for six months with a stress fracture near his shoulder, but he picked up right where he left off on Saturday, with a sharp, two-length victory in a seven-furlong allowance race.

The victory was the third straight for Joey Franco, whose previous wins had been in races against California-breds. He won an open entry-level allowance race on Saturday.

"I'd like to get another allowance race into him before the end of the meet, if it fills," Hofmans said. "Then we'll point for the Cal Cup."

Failure to communicate

Contrary to the practice at many tracks, when the stewards at Del Mar conduct an inquiry and make no change in the order of finish, their reasoning is frequently not communicated to the public. Twice on Monday, inquiries were held that resulted in no change being made. Yet when the replay was aired in both instances, Trevor Denman, the track announcer, was instructed to say the following: "The stewards have ruled the incident did not warrant a disqualification."

By not taking the horse down, it is understood the stewards believe the incident "did not warrant a disqualification." But the reason was not explained.

When a horse is disqualified, the reason for the disqualification is always announced.

When this discrepancy was last pointed out to George Slender, one of Del Mar's stewards, he said the stewards were erring on the side of not wanting to say too much because they did not want to confuse the public.

* Congaree and Kela, both expected for Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap at one mile, each worked Tuesday in preparation for that race. Congaree worked six furlongs in 1:11.60, the best time of eight at the distance, and Kela was timed in 1:00.20 for five furlongs.

* After 30 days of the 43-day meeting, Patrick Valenzuela leads the jockeys' standings with 31 victories, seven more than second-place Laffit Pincay Jr. Victor Espinoza has 23 wins. Baffert leads the trainers' race with 20 victories, six more than second-place Bill Spawr.

* Jockey David Flores tried to ride on Monday, after being thrown from Bosque Redondo in the Pacific Classic, but he became sore after riding in three races and took off his remaining mounts.

* A visitor to Del Mar this week is recently retired jockey Shane Sellers, who came west to play in a jockey-sponsored golf tournament and to visit some friends in California. "I'm just trying to find something to do," Sellers said. "This is all I've done for 20 years."