02/16/2008 12:00AM

Bustin Stones jumps to open stakes

Brandon Benson/NYRA
The General George will be the first start outside of New York-bred company for Bustin Stones.

When Bustin Stones returned to his barn on Dec. 30, trainer Bruce Levine said, "I'm hoping he stays sound to have a good enough campaign to see what I got."

Levine could find out as early as Monday what he has in Bustin Stones, as the undefeated New York-bred 4-year-old faces his toughest challenge to date in the Grade 2, $300,000 General George Handicap at Laurel Park. A field of eight was entered for the General George, run at seven furlongs.

Bustin Stones will be meeting open company for the first time in the General George, although Divine Park is the only graded stakes winner in the field. Six of the eight runners enter the race off a win.

Bustin Stones, a son of City Zip, has won all four of his starts, all against New York-breds. After winning his first three starts last spring, Bustin Stones was being pointed for the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, but a foot bruise knocked him out of that race. He would later undergo double knee surgery and miss the remainder of his 3-year-old season.

In his first start this year, Bustin Stones won the restricted Thepromonroe Stakes, turning back an early challenge from Whistlin' and drawing clear for a 1 1/2-length victory. Bustin Stones ran six furlongs in 1:09.46 and earned a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I thought he could've got beat that day off the bench," Levine said. "He dug in game after getting pressed the whole way. He's had enough time."

Bustin Stones has been successful at seven furlongs, winning a New York Stallion Stakes event over Aqueduct's main track last April, a race in which he also endured early pace pressure before drawing off. Levine doesn't view Bustin Stones as strictly a sprinter, though.

"I can't wait to run him a mile," Levine said.

Bustin Stones will break from post 2 under Ramon Dominguez in the General George.

Throng and Stormin' Normandy also have speed.

Throng, a 5-year-old son of Silver Deputy trained by Todd Pletcher, comes off a sharp four-length victory in the Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel on Jan. 5. He accomplished that victory in front-running fashion.

"We're going down there with the same idea," said Seth Benzel, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "We got a trip over the track; he ran a very big race down there. We're just hoping he can repeat the effort.''

Throng will break from post 4 under Edgar Prado.

Divine Park won his first three starts, including the Grade 3 Withers, before a hind leg injury sidelined him through the summer and fall. He returned in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in December, but drew post 14 and endured a wide trip. He finished ninth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin hopes to stretch Divine Park out in distance eventually, but thought this was the best spot for Divine Park's seasonal debut.

"You don't want to experiment coming off a subpar race," McLaughlin said. "Let's do what we know he can do. We love him, he's a top horse. We hope he rebounds, and rebounds in fashion, and go from there."

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. scratched Stormin' Normandy out of Saturday's $75,000 Hollie Hughes Stakes at Aqueduct to run in the General George. Dutrow was very excited that his speedy gelding drew the outside post, which gives jockey Cornelio Velasquez a chance to see what develops in front of him.

"I think he's very, very live, especially with his post position," Dutrow said.

Premium Wine, trained by Tony Dutrow, also scratched out of the Hollie Hughes to run in the General George. Premium Wine defeated open company in last September's Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park. He is coming off an open second-level allowance win over Aqueduct's inner track on Dec. 30.

Tony Dutrow will also send out Lord Snowdon, who won the Paumonok last out, rallying from 10 lengths off a hot early pace.

"Lord Snowdon went into his last race better than ever when he rallied from last to first," Dutrow said. "I hope his best race is good enough."

Ryan's for Real, third in this race a year ago, and Marvel Wood complete the field.