07/09/2003 11:00PM

'Buffy' turns back to sprint in Azalea


MIAMI - Buffythecenterfold is a three-time graded stakes winner and far and away the class of the field for Saturday's $300,000 Azalea Stakes. But the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies does not figure to be easy pickings for the California invader, who will take on 11 rivals, including the undefeated Angela's Love and local favorites Storm Flag and Crafty Brat.

Buffythecenterfold won the Grade 2 Sorrento and Grade 3 Landaluce stakes at 2 and the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes earlier this spring. She is coming off one of the better performances of her career, a second-place finish behind Santa Catarina going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks.

"Her last race was very good and I don't think going two turns is a problem for her," trainer Mel Stute said. "But we've been pointing for this race for quite some time and I'm not concerned about turning her back to six furlongs. She'll have a little less speed than she did in some of her other sprints, but she can be rated now and I think she's as good at the moment as she was last year when she won those two stakes and finished second in the Oak Leaf. I'm pretty confident she'll run a big race, although you never know what to expect when shipping out of town."

Buffythecenterfold will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

Stute last came to Calder in 1986 and won the final two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes with eventual Eclipse Award winner Brave Raj.

Angela's Love has started just twice, winning both races within an 11-day span at Churchill Downs by an average margin of 5 1/4 lengths. She figures to draw plenty of attention with jockey Jerry Bailey aboard for the first time, but will get tested for class in her stakes debut while also having to overcome the outside post in a field of 12.

Crafty Brat has beaten Storm Flag in both their previous meetings but it is Storm Flag who figures to attract more support at the betting windows.

Storm Flag has won 4 of 6 starts, her only two defeats coming at the hands of Crafty Brat earlier this season. She enters the Azalea off the best race of her career, an easy 4 3/4-length victory over older horses in the Toga Toga Handicap that earned her a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, the best of any member of the Azalea lineup. A daughter of Mountain Cat, Storm Flag has yet to be headed at any call in any of her races.

"Getting Lasix and a tongue strap really turned her around, and she rated a lot better last time," trainer Richard Root said. "But there's no sense trying to change what's already been successful in the past. They're going to have to catch her Saturday. If she breaks, I don't think there's anyone around who can outrun her to the lead anyway."

Turf Sprint draws full field

The five-furlong Turf Sprint drew a full field of 12, plus one also-eligible, and includes old rivals Nuclear Debate, Testify, and Abderian. The three finished third, fifth, and seventh, respectively, in the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs May 2. Testify and Abderian returned to finish one-two in Philadelphia Park's Turf Monster Handicap four weeks later. Nuclear Debate, a winner of more than $1.2 million, runs Saturday following a third-place finish in Woodbine's Grade 2 Nearctic Handicap.

"He's as genuine as they come," said Nuclear Debate's trainer, Darrell Vienna. "Obviously he needs things to go his own way because he comes from out of the clouds."

Testify will carry high weight of 120 pounds in the Turf Sprint, two more than Nuclear Debate and five more than Abderian.

Other key contenders include Stormy Roman, Take Achance on Me, Joey's Son Joey, and a pair of locally based mares in Petrina Above and My Girl Lisa.

Baby Shark seeks Rocket Man repeat

Baby Shark, who dominated last year's renewal of the two-furlong Rocket Man, will be the odds-on favorite to defend his title. The Maryland-based invader was bumped leaving the gate in the 2002 Rocket Man yet still sprinted away to a four-length victory while equaling the course record of 20.80 seconds.

Roy's Ruckus, third behind Baby Shark in this race last year, and locals Love My Mountain and Ivan's Song head the competition.