05/01/2003 11:00PM

'Buffy,' Stute are favorites


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Nominated four times to Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame, and passed over four times, disappointed trainer Mel Stute has had his fill. Stute was nominated in 1997 and each of the past three years with the same result. He was passed over again this week when Sonny Hine was elected.

"I'm going to tell them I don't want to be nominated again," Stute said Friday. "This is my fourth time, and after a while you start to feel dumb."

California fans hope Stute reconsiders his position, because few West Coast trainers are as qualified for the Hall of Fame as Stute, whose top runners included Snow Chief, Brave Raj, and Very Subtle. Stute, 75, cannot do anything about the votes. But he can still train a good horse, another of which will be on display Sunday.

Graded stakes winner Buffythecenterfold will be heavily favored at Hollywood Park in the Grade 3 Railbird. The seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies attracted six starters, and Buffythecenterfold will be coupled with the Bobby Frankel-trained Dash for Money. The stakes race offers a $100,000 purse.

Stute said Buffythecenterfold will start rain or shine, significant because Buffythecenterfold lost by 20 lengths when she raced on a wet track in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Arlington.

"It wasn't her kind of racetrack - it was rainy, miserable, and cold," Stute said. He planned to run her in stickers, decided against it on the recommendation of an exercise rider, and then watched Buffythecenterfold slip and slide to a seventh-place finish.

That was the last start of Buffythecenterfold's juvenile campaign. She subsequently was shipped to Kentucky, then Florida, and then back to Kentucky, before Stronach returned her to Stute in California.

Buffythecenterfold won the Grade 3 Landaluce at Hollywood, and Grade 2 Sorrento at Del Mar last summer. She returned from a five-month layoff March 23 in the $75,000 Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Buffythecenterfold appeared beaten by midstretch, but re-rallied inside to win by a nose. It was her fourth win from seven starts.

Buffythecenterfold has trained well since, and is likely to start as the odds-on favorite Sunday.

And if it rains? "She will have stickers," Stute said.