06/11/2003 11:00PM

Pivotal test for 'Buffy'


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Unbeaten in two sprints this year, Buffythecenterfold faces a vital test in Saturday's $200,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks.

A four-time stakes winner, she has yet to win at a route distance, but has found a field she can handle in the Grade 2 Oaks at 1 1/16 miles.

"I've always thought she could route," trainer Mel Stute said.

The biggest threat to Buffythecenterfold is Santa Catarina, the runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks, who returned two weeks later to finish a well-beaten third in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico May 16.

Other contenders include Harbor Blues, the runner-up in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park; the unbeaten Miss Bridget Jones, who makes her first start for trainer Laura de Seroux; and Princess V., the runner-up in the Melair Stakes.

The race lacks the two leading 3-year-old fillies from the Santa Anita meet. Composure, the winner of the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks, has been retired, and Elloluv, winner of the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, is preparing for a return following a fourth in the Kentucky Oaks.

Buffythecenterfold started in two route races last fall, finishing second in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita and seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Arlington Park, her final start at 2.

Sent to Florida for a vacation during the winter, Buffythecenterfold returned to racing with a nose victory in the Santa Paula Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita March 23. In the Railbird Stakes at seven furlongs over this track May 4, she was a heavy favorite and won by a length.

Stute is confident Buffythecenterfold can win.

"She did run second in the Oak Leaf but then when I ran here in the Breeders' Cup I don't think it was her race," Stute said. "I threw it out.

"I worked her here seven- eighths and she galloped out a mile real good. I would think she'd be fairly close."

There is plenty of pace in the Oaks, which could help Santa Catarina, a stalker. Santa Catarina has placed in five stakes, but has yet to win a major race.

In the Black-Eyed Susan, Santa Catarina was a heavy favorite. She contended for the lead on the turn but faded to finish nine lengths behind Roar Emotion.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the mud," trainer Bob Baffert said. "Maybe it was the two weeks back."