11/22/2006 12:00AM

Wild Buddy taking it a little easier

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Steve Knapp is candid in explaining Wild Buddy's presence in Friday's $55,000-added John Henry Handicap at Bay Meadows.

"It's nice to get away from the monsters," he said.

Wild Buddy is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the one-mile turf race, which drew 14 entrants.

Competition in the field runs deep, but Wild Buddy won't have to worry about Aragorn, California's best turf miler, who beat him in his past two starts and went on to run second in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Neither will he have to worry about T.H. Approval, California's top turf marathoner, who has beaten him three straight times.

"He's an old warrior who tries every race," Knapp said. "We've got to try to get away from some of those he's been meeting and build his confidence."

Although he has won 12 of 56 races and earned $524,759, Wild Buddy has never won a stakes. He was second to Aragorn in the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap on Aug. 26 and was third in this year's San Luis Rey and Sunset, both 1 1/2-mile Grade 2 events. In his last start he ran fifth in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile, won by Aragorn.

In his only non-graded race in his past six starts, Wild Buddy won a high-level turf allowance race.

Knapp's strategy, not surprisingly, is to "put him on the lead."

Wild Buddy has set the early pace in his past six starts. His job will be made easier Friday with Bonfante scheduled to be scratched.

Bonfante, a stakes-winning turf sprinter, tied up badly after his last work, and trainer Steve Specht said it took the 5-year-old gelding so long to recover that he would scratch him.

McCann's Mojave, who recently joined Specht's barn, has route speed, but Specht said that he wanted to see him stalk rather than go to the front, as he did in last month's California Cup Mile.

Both ends of the Brian Koriner entry of Court's in Session and Railroad have shown speed sprinting and could contest for the lead, but prefer stalking roles, at least in sprints.

Knapp chose the John Henry for Wild Buddy not simply because of the competition level. He also thought the timing works well, with the race six weeks from Wild Buddy's last.

"This came out at a perfect time for us," he said. "We try to give him a little time between races because he tries so hard. We like to space them out. He's sound, and he's a pretty fit horse who goes to the track every day."