01/21/2005 12:00AM

Maddalena among potential hidden gems

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Amazing Buy won Aqueduct's Busanda at short odds; next month's Busher Stakes could be her next appearance.

PHOENIX - One of the joys of horse racing is stumbling across a rock, taking a closer look and realizing it's a jewel. Every year new faces emerge to put their imprint on a season, and certainly 2005 will be no different. Here are three to watch.

Maddalena: When they debut for trainer Todd Pletcher with John Velazquez aboard, they're not secrets. So when Maddalena made her 2-year-old bow at Churchill Downs last spring and won easily as the heavy favorite, the word was out. Then she was out.

After her romping maiden win last April (72 Beyer Speed Figure), something went awry. She suffered a setback and missed the rest of the year. When she returned on Jan. 15 at Gulfstream, Maddalena won by over six lengths with a strong 102 Beyer.

"She's a very fast filly," said Pletcher. "She had a little setback after the race at Churchill, but she obviously came back very well."

He said she might run next in the Grade 3 Old Hat at 6 1/2 furlongs for 3-year-old fillies on Feb. 5.

Amazing Buy: Owners sometimes heap praise on a horse before the horse does anything to deserve it, and sometimes they're right. Trainer Bud Delp was right about Spectacular Bid. Ditto Jack Van Berg about Alysheba.

It's far too early to say the same about Ernie Paragallo's praise of his 3-year-old filly Amazing Buy - but it's wise to pay attention to him.

Amazing Buy made her debut at Aqueduct on Dec. 12, running third against maidens and getting an 81 Beyer. She came back Jan. 1 at Aqueduct and clobbered maidens, winning by over 10 lengths with a 92 Beyer.

Though she had only a maiden win to her credit, and though she had not run a route, Amazing Buy was sent off the 2-5 favorite in last Sunday's Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct at a mile and 70 yards. Paragallo, who bought Amazing Buy for $350,000, was telling everyone that she not only was the best filly he'd ever had, but maybe the best horse he'd ever had - heady stuff considering champions Artax and Unbridled's Song also carried his silks. He's claimed she is the best 3-year-old filly in the land, which surely will draw the attention of the fans of Sweet Catomine.

In the Busanda, Amazing Buy stalked pacesetter Dancin on Broadway, took control into the lane, and drew off for a handy victory. A daughter of High Yield, Amazing Buy ran the mile and 70 yards in 1:44.59 for an 81 Beyer.

"She did exactly what she was supposed to do," said trainer Jennifer Pedersen. "I felt confident she would rate today. I really liked what Norberto did. He educated her and she got the win at the same time."

Pedersen said there were no definite plans for Amazing Buy, but if she stays in New York the next logical spot would be Aqueduct's $75,000 Busher Stakes on Feb. 27. Success there could mean a shot at the top fillies.

Defer: This isn't as much a revelation as it is a confirmation. Everybody knows Defer is cut out to be a nice horse. Beautifully bred - by Danzig out of Hidden Reserve, a multiple winner and half to multiple Grade 1 winners Inside Information and Educated Risk - he came out running with a nice maiden win at Belmont in October, Then he was tossed in against Rockport Harbor in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Nashua on Nov. 2. And while no match for Rockport Harbor - who would come right back and win the Grand 2 Remsen and remain unbeaten - he ran on to be a solid second. He backed that up with a smart forward move to win Pimlico's Grade 3 Laurel Futurity. So he's proven among good company, and has the looks, pedigree and proven route ability. And he hasn't run fast yet (highest Beyer is 78), which is actually a good thing because many of the horses who have gone on recently to be big 3-year-olds made gradual improvement as 2-year-olds. Among them are Real Quiet, Victory Gallop, Charismatic, Menifee, Thunder Gulch, War Emblem, and Funny Cide.

So Defer has a foundation and now can jump forward as a 3-year-old.

Trainer Shug McGaughey is close to taking the wraps off Defer, who has been working along steadily in Florida. He said Defer will probably start in the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream on Feb. 5.

"It's not exactly what I'd prefer, being only 7 1/2 furlongs, but I wanted to give him some time after his last race," McGaughey said. "The race should suit him fine leading up to the Fountain of Youth.

"He probably bled a little in his race against Rockport Harbor, but I thought he ran very well in Maryland. He's really done exceptionally well down here, and I have high hopes for him."

Here are a few others you might want to remember: High Limit, Don't Get Mad, Burning Sun, Melhor Ainda, and Vitruvian.