08/29/2002 12:00AM

Meet Buffythecenterfold 1, 1A


DEL MAR, Calif. - Get ready for another edition of "The Man Show," Del Mar-style.

When last we tuned in to those three wacky hound dogs - Mike, Todd, and Frank - they were drooling into their TVG microphones over the appearance of Buffy Tyler in the Del Mar walking ring before the running of the Aug. 10 Sorrento Stakes. The former Playboy Playmate of the Month (an official title, by the way) was on hand to see the filly named in her honor, Buffythecenterfold.

Mike confessed he was having trouble maintaining his focus (not to mention eye contact).

Buffy said she had never been to the races before.

Mike told her she was drop-dead gorgeous, and asked her how it felt to have a horse named for her.

Buffy said it was bizarre.

Mike asked her about her career.

Buffy said she was chilling out, working on her acting.

Up in the booth, Frank told Mike not to "fall in."

Todd laughed real loud and said he was waiting for Mike to say, "Mommy!"

The filly won, incidentally, and on Saturday she will be going for her fourth victory without a defeat in the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante.

Ms. Tyler is scheduled to attend. No doubt the pre-production meeting for the TVG telecast will take up the issue of Mike's focus, and hopefully provide Todd and Frank with a fresh supply of witty asides.

Back at the Mel Stute barn, a Barbarella-style color poster (rated PG-13) of Tyler adorned the wall by the side of stall number one. Elsewhere on Stute's wall space there was a print of Man o' War, a winner's circle shot from the 1961 Californian (Mel's first big win), and a framed set of shoes worn by Snow Chief, Stute's 3-year-old champion of 1986. There was also a winner's souvenir photo from Longacres - dated Aug. 31, 1949 - in which a lean and hungry 22-year-old Mel Stute posed alongside a horse named Happy Note with trainer G.E. Smith.

"They called him 'General Electric' Smith because he had a reputation of using a machine on his horses," Stute said. "I wouldn't know. I was just the groom."

Stute blamed the guys in the barn for the Buffy poster, waving in the general direction of his shed row. The guys, still finishing up their chores, just smiled.

The other Buffy - daughter of Capote, granddaughter of Seattle Slew and Nijinsky - is a dappled brunette, with a modest white star between her eyes and the dimensions of a full-grown mare.

Her birthday is March 7, which makes her a Pisces. She likes carrots and grain, and spends most of her summer days in a 12x12 wood-lined adobe stall lit by a bare, 150-watt bulb. She jogs, gets her feet painted and her tail done by her groom, Francisco Vallejo, and enjoys long walks on the ring with Reynaldo Solis, Stute's right-hand man.

"She's big, yes," said Solis, a native of Panama, who was caught in the act while petting her neck and stroking her ears. "She has a good mind. Doesn't act like a 2-year-old."

Unfortunately, Buffythecenterfold got sick like a

2-year-old the day after the Sorrento. For five days she went through a temperature, the snots, and a cough. Stute waited five more days to send her back to the track.

"We couldn't give her penicillin because if she ran she might test," Stute said. "So we gave her some ginseng.

"You hate to lose 10 days," the trainer added. "But she was dead fit when she got sick. And who knows, as hard as I train 'em, a 10-day break might have been the best thing for her."

Recovering from the sniffles was tough enough. In the Debutante, Buffythecenterfold must also stretch her speed to seven furlongs and deal with Santa Catarina, the latest young monster from the team of Bob and Beverly Lewis and Bob Baffert. Chances are, Buffy could end up second choice, which will be just fine with Mel.

"We're ready," Stute said. "A race like this, it's just small change to Mr. Baffert."

Stakes money of any size or shape still looks pretty good to Stute. He has been winning top races at Del Mar since 1963, including the 1986 Del Mar Debutante with eventual champion Brave Raj. When Stute won the 1975 Del Mar Futurity with Telly's Pop, the scene in the winner's circle with Telly Savalas and his Hollywood pals brought down the house.

Stute was inoculated long ago against the fuss that can be stirred by a celebrity, pin-up or otherwise. When Mel worked for his brother, Warren, their clients included big-band leader Harry James and his wife, Betty Grable, whose photographs inspired American GIs to get World War II over as fast as they could. As a couple, circa 1950, they were as glitzy as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. And Harry played better horn.

"Betty's legs were insured for a million dollars," Stute said.

"She was the number one star in Hollywood."

That gives Buffy something to shoot for. Both of them.