07/12/2002 12:00AM

Patience rewarded by homebred veterans


By the way they have been running lately, it would be hard to guess the ages of two Maryland-bred vintage runners.

Wise Dusty, an 11-year-old chestnut gelding owned by Adrian Merton, may be the oldest horse in training in the country competing in stakes races on the flat. In his second start of 2002, Wise Dusty finished second in a field of 10 to Sheryar Special, a horse nearly a third his age, in the $100,000 Charles Town Dash Handicap on July 4.

Buenos Dias, getting stronger and stronger at age 8, won his second start of the year for Sondra and Howard Bender, the $75,000 Independence Day Handicap at Mountaineer Park on July 2, in a dead heat with 4-year-old youngster On to Richmond.

The two veterans have two things in common - they are still owned by their breeders, and their connections are willing to be patient.

Wise Dusty, a son of Bishop Northcraft, came to Bowie-based trainer Wayne Bailey at the end of his 3-year-old season, still unraced and with a lot of growing to do.

"He is not a big horse," Bailey said. "But between ages 4 and 5, he must have grown a hand."

In his first season of competition at 4, Wise Dusty made 17 starts, finished on the board in 13, and won the Mister Diz Stakes at Laurel. Counting his most recent outing, he has made 79 trips to the post, the majority in sprints. Highlights of Wise Dusty's long career include a victory in the Grade 3 Laurel Dash Stakes and a second to eventual Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Smoke Glacken in the Grade 2 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Both races were in 1997. He has earned $771,653.

"It is hard to keep a horse at the top of his game for a long time without something happening to him," said Bailey, who explains that part of Wise Dusty's longevity is owed to "backing off on him when he gets really tight."

As Wise Dusty has gotten older, Bailey also searches for shorter races for him. "I don't have to train him as hard, since he doesn't need the stamina to go farther," Bailey said.

Most of his recent races have been at the Charles Town Dash distance of 4 1/2 furlongs.

Until last summer, Wise Dusty had never been out of Bailey's barn. But the gelding broke a splint bone in his right foreleg when he finished second in last year's Charles Town Dash, and the injury flared up following his next start, a victory in the HBPA Kelly Kip Stakes. The broken bone had to be removed.

"For the first time in his career, he was turned out on the farm," said Bailey.

The trainer was a little apprehensive about how Wise Dusty would handle the different lifestyle, but the gelding took care of himself while recuperating. He returned to Bailey this spring.

"I told Mr. Merton that at the first sign of any problems, we would stop and retire him," Bailey said. But Wise Dusty got better and better.

In his first start in more than 10 months, Wise Dusty won an allowance at Charles Town in typical style.

"When he sees a horse in front, he pins his ears and aims for him," said Bailey, describing the gelding's 21st victory.

Buenos Dias's trainer, Larry Murray, attributes his charge's durability to racing on the grass. Not so much because of the surface, but because being in the Northeast, Buenos Dias "only has to run half as much, since he is off in the winter."

Buenos Dias, a gray Mt. Livermore gelding, has won six of his 13 starts on the grass since his turf debut at age 5. He captured the first stakes of his career, Penn National's $100,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap, last summer.

"He's gotten better as he has gotten older," says Murray, who admits that Buenos Dias "has never looked as good as he does right now."

Winter breaks and nagging physical problems have limited Buenos Dias to 31 starts over seven seasons, but he is a perfect 2 for 2 this year. He returned after nearly eight months off to win an allowance at Delaware on June 1 by 2 3/4 lengths.

The Laurel Park-based Bueno Dias may head once again to Mountaineer for a stakes race on the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby card on Aug. 10. That same card at Mountaineer could draw Wise Dusty for the West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup, but he is also entered in Sunday's HBPA Opequon Stakes at Charles Town. "It is up to him as to where we go next," said Bailey.