05/13/2004 12:00AM

Humorously on upswing

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BALTIMORE - Bill White looked around. He looked everywhere. The trainer's requirements were not unreasonable: a two-turn stakes race that wasn't part of the Triple Crown. That's all he wanted.

At this time of year, however, that cupboard is nearly bare, even in south Florida, which has an aggressive 3-year-old program the first four months of the year. With options preciously few, White decided to send his colt Humorously from his base at Calder Race Course to Pimlico for Saturday's $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes.

The Sir Barton was used two years ago by Sarava as a springboard to a victory in the Belmont Stakes, but White has more modest goals for Humorously. First and foremost, he merely wants to get a race in him, rather than keep him on hold. Second, he is hoping the Sir Barton will serve as a prep for the myriad lucrative derbies for 3-year-olds this summer, such as the Ohio Derby at Thistledown.

"The Belmont would be a little ambitious," White said Thursday from Calder. "We're hoping he runs a real big race, and then look at something like the Ohio Derby."

has made significant progress in recent months. He took three starts against maiden-claiming company before breaking through with a victory, but since then he has captured a restricted stakes in Ocala, then was second to Kaufy Mate in the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park on April 4.

"With the passage of time, he just kept getting stronger," White said.

White named Gary Stevens to ride Humorously, even though he had yet to contact the jockey in France. Humorously is owned by Art and Stephanie Preston's Oxbow Racing LLC. Stevens has ridden numerous top runners for the Prestons in past years, including the 1998 Belmont winner, Victory Gallop.

"I knew he was coming in for the Preakness, and he has ridden for the Prestons, so I don't anticipate any problems," White said.

The 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton attracted a field of 10. Humorously drew well, landing post 3. The horses expected to garner the bulk of the public's money, Preachinatthebar and Royal Assault, have the two outside posts.

Preachinatthebar, who will start from post 10, has been enigmatic in recent starts. He was a game winner of the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 14, but was beaten more than 30 lengths when he finished seventh in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. He then was kept out of the Kentucky Derby after not working to the satisfaction of trainer Bob Baffert.

Royal Assault, who is in post 9, was fifth in the Wood Memorial after stumbling at the start. He has finished in the money in his other three starts. His trainer, Nick Zito, is hoping to use the Sir Barton as a prep for the June 5 Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown.