11/06/2002 1:00AM

Only the Best has sore shin


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Only the Best, a two-time stakes winner this fall, will miss the $125,000 Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 23 due to a tender shin, trainer Brian Lynch said.

The setback was detected following Only the Best's two-length win in the six-furlong Sunny Slope Stakes at Santa Anita Oct. 19. In late September, Only the Best won his first stakes in the Malcolm Anderson Stakes at Bay Meadows, scoring by four lengths.

Lynch described the injury as a "bucked shin," a common soreness that 2-year-olds sometimes encounter. He said that Only the Best will be considered for the California Breeders' Champion Stakes for statebreds over seven furlongs at Santa Anita in late December.

"After his last race, he's earned a bit of time," Lynch said.

By Smokester, Only the Best races for his breeders, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Toffel.

Bray's luck begins to change

The upset win by Master Belt at 68-1 in the Grade 3 Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita last Sunday was a welcome milestone for trainer Simon Bray.

Master Belt gave Bray his first stakes winner of the year, and represents part of a rebuilding process for the 32-member stable. In August 2001, Bray lost the Allen Paulson Living Trust as a major client when those horses were switched to Laura de Seroux. At the time, Bray trained the major stakes winners Astra and Startac.

Earlier this year, the barn had another setback when several promising horses were sidelined by injury and many 2-year-olds got sick.

"When you lose a lot of horses like I did and you've got a barn full of 2-year-olds, it's a kicker," he said. "The 2-year-olds were bred to run a mile. There's not much you can do with them in May."

Bray has two older horses that are making comebacks - Bella Bella Bella and Theatre Script.

Bella Bella Bella won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes last January when trained by Jenine Sahadi and was later transferred to Neil Drysdale. She made one start for Drysdale, finishing fourth in the Melair Stakes for 3-year-old California-bred fillies in April, before being turned out.

Theatre Script finished third in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2001 but was only second in two allowance races for Bray earlier this year. He is expected to start in coming weeks.

Master Belt made his first start in the United States in the Morvich. The winner of the New Zealand 2000 Guineas in 2001, he made his final start in New Zealand in March.

The Morvich was run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course and was Master Belt's first stakes win since the 2000 Guineas, which was worth only $84,100.

Despite Master Belt's win in a sprint stakes, Bray is reluctant to point the 4-year-old Master Belt to the $200,000 Hollywood Turf Express over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf on Nov. 29, the turf sprint championship of the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

"I think speed might carry a little more on this turf course," Bray said. "With his kick, I think he'd be good at a mile."

Freedom Crest returns in Steinlen

Freedom Crest, the winner of two graded stakes at Santa Anita in 2001, will return in Sunday's $70,000 Steinlen Handicap following a five-month layoff.

Plagued by bleeding problems, Freedom Crest has not started since finishing unplaced in the Lone Star Park Handicap on May 27.

The Steinlen is run over 1 1/16 miles on turf and serves as a prep to the $500,000 Citation Handicap on Nov. 30. Before the Citation is considered, trainer Richard Baltas wants to ensure that Freedom Crest's lungs are in good health.

"So far, he hasn't bled in any of his works," Baltas said. "He's been good."

The Steinlen field is led by Decarchy, the winner of the Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita last March. He has not started in the last six months because of injury.

Freedom Crest has run well off a layoff in the past, scoring a memorable victory at 39-1 against Tiznow in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita in October 2001.

The Steinlen will be his first start on turf since a third-place finish in a turf sprint in December 1999.

"He ran on it once before, had trouble, and got beat a length," Baltas said. "I loved the way he worked on it."

* Kafwain, the winner of the Norfolk Stakes and the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, worked a half-mile in 47.20 seconds at Santa Anita on Wednesday. Kafwain is being considered for the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity over 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 21.