09/18/2006 11:00PM

Just call him a stakes winner?

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POMONA, Calif. -- Scoonerwharfbardog is not the most elegantly named 2-year-old in the $65,000 Gateway to Glory Stakes on Thursday at Fairplex Park, but so what?

The improving 2-year-old enters the 1 1/16-mile stakes as the best gamble in the race, and a running advertisement for a colorful Key West saloon where trainer Jeff Mullins and his wife, Amy, celebrated the February private purchase of a then-unnamed colt.

The singer started in on a tune about an old dog -- the Schooner Wharf Bar dog. "That's it, that's [the colt's] name." Mullins said.

"Too many letters," Amy replied.

"I'll take out an 'H.' "

Problem solved.

All that Scoonerwharfbardog must do Thursday is make the story worth repeating. He faces nine rivals in the Gateway to Glory, his first start since an Aug. 4 maiden win at Del Mar.

"He has improved quite a bit, and he really likes this track," Mullins said. "He gains speed in the turns and hotdogs around there."

Sired by Two Punch, Scooner-wharfbardog has a sprinter's pedigree, which does not always make a difference on the five-eighths Fairplex track.

"He's got one of those big, long, steady strides, and the way he broke his maiden I have a feeling he won't mind going long," Mullins said.

Michael Baze rides Scoonerwharf-bardog, one of four "live" starters Thursday for Mullins. He is running away with the Fairplex training title (9 for 22 into Wednesday) and entered Proud Hope in race 3, Way to Shine in race 5, and Private Hall in race 9.

To win Thursday, Scoonerwharf-bardog must improve the Beyer Speed Figure of 67 he earned in an $80,000 maiden claimer at Del Mar. Mullins has targeted the Gateway to Glory for Scoonerwharfbardog for several weeks, and the race does not include any stars.

Larry by the Lake dead-heated for victory in a maiden-40 starter allowance Aug. 16 at Del Mar, and sharp recent workouts suggest imminent improvement by the 2-for-2 gelding, trained by John Sadler.

Spark of Dubai won the Beau Brummel, a sprint, eight days ago, and trainer Juan Garcia said immediately afterward that Spark of Dubai would wheel right back in the Gateway to Glory. In 1995, Come on Get Happy won both stakes.

Unusual Suspect, a son of grass sire Unusual Heat, beat special-weight maidens on grass one month ago at Del Mar, and if he takes to dirt he is qualified to win.