09/25/2008 12:00AM

Stardom Bound tries to stretch out

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Chris Paasch said he has never trained a horse like Stardom Bound, whose stunning victory in the Del Mar Debutante - last to first in the blink of an eye - ranks as the top performance of summer by a California 2-year-old.

But now it is fall, and Paasch acknowledges that Stardom Bound's electrifying sprint win in the seven-furlong Debutante does not guarantee her victory when she stretches out for the first time Saturday at Santa Anita.

"I absolutely agree two turns is a completely different race, especially for 2-year-olds," Pasch said. "But if you just watch her gallop out, you would have a tough time to say she couldn't do it."

Stardom Bound will be favored Saturday to win the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile Pro-Ride race in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Twelve entered the Oak Leaf, race 8 on the 11-race card.

Though she might be the best filly out West at any distance, Stardom Bound faces a good Oak Leaf field Saturday. It includes Empressive Lady, fifth as the Debutante favorite, improving maiden winner Toro Bonito, and Debutante two-three finishers Palacio de Amor and Will O Way.

Charles Cono owns Stardom Bound, a gray daughter of Tapit who finished second the first two starts of her career before winning the Debutante by 4 1/4 lengths. Paasch said he has "lengthened her gallops a little bit" to prepare her for first try around two turns.

Many questions face Stardom Bound. Her unbalanced running style suggests she might be best as a late-running sprinter, she broke slowly in all three starts, has not raced on any surface other than Polytrack at Del Mar, and she benefited from a closers' bias in the Debutante. Mike Smith rides Stardom Bound.

While the Debutante was the breakout race for Stardom Bound, it was a backward step for Empressive Lady. Favored off a daylight maiden win, she raced wide and finished a flat fifth. Trainer Jeff Mullins blamed himself.

"She's one of those fillies that does everything easily and effortlessly, and I might have under-trained her into the Debutante," Mullins said, adding that he has "stepped up her training a little bit, and trained her a little harder."

Empressive Lady is sired by Empire Maker, and Mullins believes she benefits from the Oak Leaf distance of 1 1/16 miles.

"Pedigree-wise, she should handle it, and maybe the slower pace and more distance [will help]," Mullins said.

Tyler Baze rides Empressive Lady, a pace-presser owned by Michael House.

Toro Bonito steps up and stretches out following a good maiden win for trainer Bob Baffert on Aug. 24.

"She's steady, and she acts like she will like two turns," Baffert said, adding, "David Flores loves her." Toro Bonito is owned and bred by Hal and Patti Earnhardt.

Will O Way is the sleeper. She overcame trouble to win her debut at Calder, then finished a troubled third in the Debutante, her first start for trainer Vladimir Cerin.