05/17/2002 12:00AM

Ward-trained Bear Fan bears watching


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Wesley Ward has been around long enough not to get overly excited about a maiden winning her first start.

With a 25 percent winning percentage among first-time starters, he is used to seeing his horses perform well early in their careers.

However Ward has also been around long enough to know when he has a runner with a chance to be special, and he believes he has one in Bear Fan.

Bear Fan might have scared away enough rivals that Sunday's $75,000 Miss California Stakes at six furlongs for 3-year-old Cal-bred fillies at Bay Meadows was canceled.

Nine were nominated for the race, but only four entered, a number that was cut to three when Bear Fan suffered an injury that needed stitches at Hollywood Park on Friday.

Ward, who bred Bear Fan and owns her with partner Peter Fan, watched her impressive victory in her debut in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Hollywood Park on California Gold Rush Day April 28. Overcoming trouble, she won by four lengths in 1:17.37.

"She's a runner," Ward said. "She's blessed with unbelievable athletic ability. She was not 100 percent ready for her first start, but she came out of the race very well."

Ward says she's training better than ever and had a "46 [seconds] and change" drill around the dogs on the Hollywood turf course Thursday and "wasn't even breathing."

Ward tries to get his horses ready to race when they are 2-year-olds.

He has an unusual style of preparing his young horses.

"I take my horses into the mountains and ride them in groups of 12 for an hour on two or three occasions," he said. "They learn how it is to be ridden, and they get used to other horses around them."

Learning to go up and down trails helps put a foundation into them even though they are not working.

Ward is known for developing sprinters, and he believes Bear Fan will be a "very solid" sprinter. But he thinks she will appreciate two turns and will really like grass.

"Basically, I train a lot of sprinters," he said. "Being by Pine Bluff, a classic horse, maybe we have illusions of grandeur about her. We're hoping she keeps everything going."

Because she's big - 17.5 hands - Ward was inclined to take some time with Bear Fan. She suffered normal shin problems as a 2-year-old and seemed just about ready for a race a couple times when Ward would see something and back off on her.

The patience paid off, and now it is time to be patient again.

o Sunday's feature will now be a one-mile allowance race on the turf for older fillies and mares and will mark the return of Geana Dawn, who was the Claimer of the Meeting at Golden Gate Fields and was undefeated in Northern California this year before losing by a neck in her first start at Bay Meadows then was third at Hollywood Park.