10/03/2002 11:00PM

Composure leaping into graded company

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Composure has a long way to go before equaling the achievements of other Bob Baffert-trained 2-year-old fillies, but comparisons already have begun.

Composure, said Baffert, "has always been one of my favorites. She reminds me of Silverbulletday. She still has to prove herself, and the Oak Leaf will be a proving ground."

Four weeks after winning a maiden sprint in her third start, Composure will try to justify the accolades when she stretches out in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita. A field of six juvenile fillies entered the 1 1/16-mile race, the final California prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The field includes graded stakes winner Buffythecenterfold, New York shipper Heart Ofa Champion, and three others with nothing more than a maiden win to their credit - Espy, Sea Jewel, and Honest Answer. Despite her inexperience, Composure has been training like a filly ready to leap into the national picture.

"She ate up a lot of money first two starts at Del Mar, but she needed distance," Baffert said. A $470,000 filly sired by Touch Gold, Composure lost her first two starts at low odds, then put it all together in her third start, winning a six-furlong sprint by four lengths in fast time. Subsequent works have been sensational.

While Composure's participation in the Oak Leaf was always planned, the addition of Espy to the field was out of necessity. Trainer Richard Mandella hoped to start Espy, a daughter of Mt. Livermore, in a first-condition sprint, but the race did not fill. Espy won a fast maiden sprint in her most recent start. Can she run long?

"She looks like a sprinter, and that might be what she is going to end up being, but the way she responds to training," he said, the Oak Leaf is "the chance we have" to go a route. Espy finished second in her debut, then won her second start two months later.

Sea Jewel also is 1 for 2, but coming off a loss. Runaway winner of her July 28 debut, she was beaten 10 lengths in the Del Mar Debutante. Trainer John Shirreffs chalks it up to inexperience. "The first time she did everything right, the second time she did nothing right," Shirreffs said. "Victor [Espinoza] said she was ducking and doing all sorts of stuff." Sired by Sea Hero, Sea Jewel is bred to stretch out.

Buffythecenterfold is the most accomplished starter, but she tailed off when she got sick after winning the Sorrento.