02/20/2004 1:00AM

Ward in search of Grade 1 win for Bear Fan


ARCADIA, Calif. - Nearly two years of hype was justified when the California-bred Bear Fan won the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel on Feb. 14.

Since a four-length win in a maiden race at Hollywood Park in April 2002, Bear Fan, 5, has displayed the potential to become a graded-stakes winner.

The Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie was her third attempt in such a stakes and has given trainer-breeder Wesley Ward a reason to point for the $250,000 Humana Distaff Handicap, a Grade 1 over seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on May 1.

"We'll try to get a Grade 1," Ward said.

The win improved Bear Fan's record to five wins in nine starts and earnings of $341,970. The win was her second in a stakes; she won the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebreds at Del Mar in 2002.

Bear Fan is the only California-bred, and stakes winner, out of Shezalong, who won four races and earned $52,636. Bear Fan is by Pine Bluff, who stands in Kentucky.

After Shezalong foaled Bear Fan, she was bred back to General Meeting. Ward sold Shezalong in Kentucky for $50,000 while she was in foal to General Meeting. The resulting colt, later named Agorein, was foaled in Kentucky and sold for $210,000.

"There wasn't much luck on my part," Ward said.

None of Shezalong's subsequent foals have done as well as Bear Fan. Agorein and two colts by Tejano Run - Modeling and Johnny Tejano - are maidens.

Bear Fan is with Ward's Florida division at the Palm Meadows training center.

She started last month at Santa Anita, finishing in a dead heat for third in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint for California-breds and Florida-breds.

In that race, she was the 3-2 favorite in a field of 10. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Bear Fan was boxed in until the eighth pole. She closed ground in the final furlong but did not threaten race winner Mooji Moo, losing by 1 1/2 lengths.

"I thought that race was better than the Barbara Fritchie," Ward said. "Jerry said she should have won. We were very unlucky."

Ward said Bear Fan will not start again until the Humana Distaff. He said she emerged from the Barbara Fritchie in good condition - a change from past races, after which she was sidelined by injury.

The setbacks have curtailed her career. Prior to the Fritchie, her best result in a graded stakes was a second in the Grade 3 Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park last June.

"She's sound right now, and she's been plagued by injuries and quarter cracks [in the past]," he said. "Her feet are perfect."

Stallion chosen for Centerofattention

Centerofattention, the winner of the Solana Beach Handicap last summer at Del Mar, was retired late last fall. She will be bred to Storm Creek this year, according to trainer Eric Kruljac.

Centerofattention won 5 of 24 starts and $303,396 for Denise and Norine Grenier. By Beau Genius, Centerofattention had her best season in 2003, winning three stakes in Arizona and California.

In May, she won her first stakes in the minor Sun City Handicap at Turf Paradise. In late summer, she won the Luther Burbank Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa and followed with an 8-1 upset in the Solana Beach Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Following a fifth in the California Cup Distaff and a loss at Turf Paradise, Centerofattention was retired after she was diagnosed with a bone chip in an ankle.

Storm Creek stands for $7,500 at Rancho San Miguel in San Miguel, Calif.