10/27/2005 11:00PM

Plan for Wild Buddy: Let him roll

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Wild Buddy will be easy to spot Sunday at Santa Anita. The front-runner will be loose on the lead in the Grade 3 Carleton F. Burke Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that he just might win - if he can get the distance.

"We're going to give him a good-sized lead, give him a breather, and then go on," trainer Steve Knapp said. It is a good plan, and different from the tactics Wild Buddy employed Oct. 8 in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile, won by Singletary.

"We took away all our chance of winning that race by slowing it down too much and letting everyone into the race," Knapp said. "He's a speed horse, and you have to let him use his speed to full advantage."

slowed to 47.96 for a half-mile and 1:11.52 for three-quarters in the Oak Tree Mile, and got run over, finishing fifth.

Ridden last time by Tyler Baze, Wild Buddy switches to Victor Espinoza (Corey Nakatani was named, but he will stay in New York to ride Sunday). Espinoza will be instructed to let Wild Buddy open up on the field. He may lose, but it will be on his terms.

And if it works out the way Knapp has planned, Wild Buddy can lead gate to wire against five modest rivals.

won the $98,000 Hinds Invitational Handicap last out at Fairplex Park, and fits if he transfers his dirt form to turf. At Dawn ran third in a second-condition allowance; Golden Rahy ran second in a $40,000 claimer; Star Pupil finished fifth in a two-other-than allowance; and the mare Stage Shy is returning from a 14-month layoff.

With 10 wins at the Oak Tree meet, Knapp has climbed to second in the trainer standings by following a simple blueprint - buy better stock. Knapp claimed 14 horses for $50,000 or more during the summer meet at Del Mar. "I'm building a better barn, a stronger barn," he said. "We're having fun."

The $85,000 that owner Michael Miller spent claiming Wild Buddy on Aug. 12 was the highest Knapp claim ever. The 6-year-old gelding has won 11 of 45, and is dropping from Grade 2 races at a mile. "He's sharp; he's going to run a big race," Knapp said. The distance? "The way he works and gallops out, I think he can run all day," Knapp said.

As for , trainer Neil Drysdale said: "She may need a run. I haven't done a lot of work with her. She's been off a long time."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen