07/26/2005 11:00PM

Storm Wolf gets first real test

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Storm Wolf has risen from a maiden race winner to a graded stakes winner so quickly that he is somewhat hard to assess for Saturday's $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.

Is he a future sprint star whose three consecutive wins by a combined 20 1/2 lengths are a reflection of things to come? Or, is he a colt who has been expertly placed to take advantage of weak competition among California's 3-year-old sprinters?

The answer will come in Saturday's Grade 1 Bing Crosby at six furlongs.

Storm Wolf, who races for Mercedes Stable and Marsha Naify, has made just four starts. After finishing a troubled fourth in a maiden race last December, he was given the rest of the winter off. He has not lost since.

A colt by Stormin Fever, Storm Wolf won a maiden race by seven lengths on March 16, an allowance race by 7 1/2 lengths on April 9, and the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Stakes by six lengths on May 21.

Trainer Bruce Headley passed the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap against older horses earlier this month in favor of Sunday's race.

"He had a hard race," Headley said of the Laz Barrera. "It was a mad dash."

To his credit, Storm Wolf does not have a definitive style. In the maiden race, Storm Wolf stalked the pace for a quarter-mile, but in the last two races he led throughout.

"He broke slow the first couple of times and he never gave up," Headley said. "I think he can do whatever he needs. He can be off the pace. I just want him to break good and get a position."

There will be plenty of speed in the Bing Crosby, which includes the comeback of Pico Central from a four-month break, plus appearances from Midwest stakes winners Battle Won and Top Commander.

The Bing Crosby will be one of the best sprints run in California this year. Headley and his clients will learn quickly whether Storm Wolf is capable of competing at this level, and whether a race such as the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park in October is achievable.

"The older horses do have more experience," Headley said.

As a backup, there is also the Grade 1 Malibu at seven furlongs at Santa Anita in December.

"I'd love to wait for the Malibu, but there is a Breeders' Cup coming up," he said.

Buzzards Bay to return to California

Buzzards Bay, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby in April, remains in Kentucky after being purchased by Gary and Wendy Broad for $725,000 as part of a dispersal held after a yearling sale there on July 18.

New trainer Ron Ellis said Buzzards Bay will be shipped to California in coming days, but that no definite plans have been made. The options include a possible start in the $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 5, or a campaign during the winter meeting at Santa Anita, Ellis said.

"We're not going to run him in the West Virginia Derby or the Travers," Ellis said, referring to two top August races.

A winner of 3 of 10 starts and $625,746, Buzzards Bay has not started since finishing fourth in the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park in June. Previously owned by Fog City Stable, Buzzards Bay was fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

Stakes next for Proposed

Proposed, who crushed a first-level allowance group by four lengths going six furlongs on Sunday for her second straight win, will make her next start in a stakes race, according to trainer John Shirreffs.

Shirreffs said the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes on Sept. 2 and the $125,000 Solana Beach Handicap on Sept. 4 are under consideration. Both are at one mile. The Solana Beach is on turf, a surface on which Proposed has yet to race, but it is restricted to California-breds, whereas the Torrey Pines is for open company.

"I was really proud of her," Shirreffs said of the allowance win. "That was a pretty contentious one-other-than."

Proposed was being wheeled back on just two weeks' rest following a long layoff, which is not Shirreffs's style. But Proposed had defeated maidens under a confident - nearly overconfident - ride by Jon Court.

"She was fortunate that she wasn't ridden too hard in that race, so we could run her back quick," said Shirreffs, who has trained Proposed for only her last two starts. "My only concern was that she was in season. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. This time, it did. She's really matured."

Shirreffs's Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo, is at Del Mar and is walking twice a day following surgery last month. Del Mar officials are working with Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss regarding having Giacomo parade at the track one day this summer.

"We'll do something, probably in the paddock, where we can contain him," Shirreffs said.

Murphy and Ward reunite

Declan Murphy was the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice in 1983. Wesley Ward won the award one year later. Friends in New York in those days, they have traveled far and wide since then, but have kept in touch and were reunited at Del Mar this past week.

Murphy, who rode in Hong Kong and is now a television and newspaper commentator there, is desirous of becoming a trainer. Ward, who has made a successful switch from riding to training, is among the trainers with whom Murphy is visiting during an extended holiday this summer.

"I enjoy what I'm doing a lot, but I feel like I've been away from the animal," Murphy said. "Having been on top of the animal, I feel a need to be closer. That's one of the reasons I want to train. I've already been to Ascot, I'm spending a week in Del Mar, then I'm going to Saratoga and Australia."

Chinese Dragon could come back at Oak Tree

Chinese Dragon, unbeaten in four starts in this country, is preparing for a comeback, trainer Bob Hess Jr. said.

Unraced since winning the Alcatraz Breeders' Cup Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in May, Chinese Dragon has been sidelined by a minor injury that will prevent him from starting at Del Mar.

Hess said Chinese Dragon will be pointed for the Oak Tree Derby in October at Santa Anita or the Hollywood Derby in November.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman