05/23/2001 11:00PM

As good as Silverbulletday?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bob Baffert simply knew he would win on Kentucky Derby Day.

And not just because he had Point Given and Congaree in the Derby.

After Love at Noon had a sparkling workout during Derby week, Baffert said he told jockey Gary Stevens, "I know one thing: We won't get shut out Derby Day."

He was right. Love at Noon, making just her second career start, shattered the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs by winning the first race on the Derby Day card, finishing in 1:14.34. Her victory provided a small measure of consolation when favored Point Given, ridden by Stevens, and Congaree were defeated in the Derby.

Saturday, Love at Noon will make her first start since that flashy performance when facing six other 3-year-old fillies in the 27th running of the $100,000 Dogwood Stakes.

Baffert, who will be at Churchill to saddle the filly for owner Mike Pegram, said he believes that if Love at Noon "can go long, she could be as good as Silverbulletday," his two-time Eclipse champion. The 1 1/16-mile Dogwood marks the first two-turn race for Love at Noon.

Baffert quickly acknowledged how fast the Churchill strip was playing on Derby Day but said that Love at Noon "won by eight lengths and did it easy. I know the track was fast, but it'd be hard to say she didn't deserve the record."

"This is a really good filly," said Baffert. "When she won her first race [April 7 at Santa Anita], I thought, she must really be a top filly, because she'd been training over at Hollywood, and I don't let them crank down on those horses."

Love at Noon, a Kentucky-bred by Afternoon Deelites, won her Santa Anita debut despite a tough trip. With Stevens riding her Derby Day, she made a sensational mid-race rush from just off the pace, then sped clear.

Love at Noon, to be ridden by Pat Day, will break from the rail in the Grade 3 Dogwood, which should have Nasty Storm as the second choice. Nasty Storm faded badly after setting a fast pace in the Kentucky Oaks.

"That wasn't her race," said trainer Dallas Stewart.

Nasty Storm, owned by a partnership that includes former University of Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, finished second in the Golden Rod Stakes last fall before getting the winter off. She was impressive in her return at Keeneland in April, easily winning an allowance under Day.

Perhaps the best potential upsetter in the Dogwood is Happily Unbridled, trained by Happy Alter. After winning three in a row on her home south Florida circuit, Happily Unbridled was never a serious factor in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. He returned to Calder with Alter, and now has come back to Kentucky for the Dogwood.

The Dogwood, inaugurated in 1975, already is the fourth stakes for 3-year-old fillies at this 21-day-old meet.

Two allowance races also are part of a 10-race card Saturday.

In the eighth race, which directly precedes the Dogwood, older turf horses should wage an interesting battle when competing at 1 1/16 miles for a $62,400 purse. Buff, Thesaurus, and Stokosky figure as the logical favorites in a solid field of eight.