02/18/2008 12:00AM

Bustin Stones hits new high in General George


A gritty Bustin Stones made the successful transition from restricted stakes to open company Monday and scored the biggest victory of his career to remain undefeated.

Forging to the lead right out of the gate under Ramon Dominguez, Bustin Stones held off a late charge from Lord Snowdon in the stretch to win the Grade 2, $246,750 General George Handicap at Laurel Park by a head. It was 1 1/2 lengths back to a troubled-trip Premium Wine in third.

Ryan's for Real, Throng, Stormin Normandy, and Divine Park completed the order of finish. Divine Park, the 5-2 third choice, broke through the starting gate before the start of the race.

The victory was the fifth in as many career starts for Bustin Stones, a 4-year-old New York-bred son of City Zip, owned and bred by Roddy Valente and trained by Bruce Levine. It was the most prestigious victory for Levine since he campaigned Kolucktoo's Jill to a pair of Grade 2 wins in 1985.

Monday's victory was especially gratifying to Levine given the fact Bustin Stones made it back from double knee surgery last summer.

"Usually, you just hope you get them back to the races," Levine said in the rainy winner's circle. "To come back like this - probably better than he was last year - to win a Grade 2 is just super."

Bustin Stones broke alertly from the gate and set fractions of 23.05 seconds and 46.37 while being pursued by Stormin Normandy. Turning for home, Bustin Stones stole away from the field and had a two-length advantage at the eighth-pole. Lord Snowdon, under Jeremy Rose, was coming quickly in the stretch, but could not get by Bustin Stones, who covered the seven furlongs over a good track in 1:24.47 and returned $6.20 as the favorite.

"He sensed the closers before I did," said Dominguez, who won the 2003 General George aboard My Cousin Matt. "He's very game, and when he felt them coming to him, he just kept on digging. He knew exactly what he had to do to get it done."

Lord Snowdon received a ground-saving trip down the backside before tipping out four wide in the stretch. He and stablemate Premium Wine exchanged bumps in the stretch, and Lord Snowdon's late run fell just short.

"My horse ran big, but the winner dug deep," Rose said. "The race set up perfectly for us, we just couldn't get there."