04/19/2006 11:00PM

Wild Buddy will try wiring 'em

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Santa Ysabel star Itty Bitty Pretty will go next in the Kentucky Oaks.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Wild Buddy was so far in front at one stage of the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap last month at Santa Anita that it seemed improbable he would be caught.

On the backstretch, Wild Buddy led by as many as 10 lengths in the seven-horse field, an advantage that was gone with a quarter-mile remaining. Some horses caught after such an early effort would have retreated to the back of the field, but Wild Buddy did not quit. He finished third, two lengths behind the winner, King's Drama.

Trainer Steve Knapp is ready to try the same strategy with Wild Buddy in Sunday's $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap. It will be even more of a test. While the San Luis Rey Handicap was at 1 1/2 miles, the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano is run at about 1 3/4 miles on turf, the longest stakes race in Southern California.

"I'm hoping we're in front by 10," Knapp said. "We're going to send him. We want to use his best asset."

Knapp said that Wild Buddy "deserves to win a stakes." Claimed for $85,000 at Del Mar last August, Wild Buddy, 7, is winless in eight subsequent starts for owner Mike Miller, a span that includes a third in the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap last September and a second by a neck in the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in October.

In several recent starts, Wild Buddy was near the front early and was caught in the stretch.

"He's more of a plodding kind of horse," Knapp said. "He's not a real finisher."

The pace of the San Juan Capistrano is not likely to be quick. The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano drew a field of 13 and is led by defending champion T.H. Approval. Trained by Eduardo Inda, T.H. Approval has been second in both his starts this year, the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey handicaps. In the San Luis Rey, he rallied from seventh to finish a length in front of Wild Buddy.

Knapp, who won the training title at the Oak Tree meeting last fall, has yet to win a stakes at the current meeting. For the San Juan, he has given the mount on Wild Buddy to Michael Baze, who was aboard in the San Luis Rey Handicap.

"He does a lot of work in this barn," Knapp said of Baze. "He gave this horse a good ride last time."

Itty Bitty Pretty going to Ky. Oaks

Itty Bitty Pretty, the winner of the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January, is expected to make her next start in the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Since the Santa Ysabel, Itty Bitty Pretty has finished third in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in February and fourth in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 8.

O'Neill dismissed the Ashland result, saying that Keeneland's speed and rail bias worked against Itty Bitty Pretty's style.

"It was on a speed-biased track," O'Neill said. "She's not known as being a great gate horse, and she gave herself too much to do. She had to be 12 lengths out of it on the backstretch."

Itty Bitty Pretty has won 2 of 8 starts and $182,909.

Itty Bitty Pretty was scheduled to work at Churchill Downs on Friday, O'Neill said.

Candy Factory back in training

Candy Factory, who won the Solana Beach Handicap for statebred fillies and mares at Del Mar last summer, has returned to training after a winter break. The 5-year-old mare is in training with Dan Hendricks, having previously been trained by Mike Machowsky.

Owned by Dahlberg Farms, Candy Factory has not started since finishing sixth in the California Cup Distance Handicap last November. Candy Factory has won 4 of 9 starts and $181,720.

Hendricks's barn is led by Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek, the probable favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Thursday, Brother Derek galloped 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita. He is booked to work on Monday before leaving for Churchill Downs on Tuesday or Thursday, Hendricks said.

21 races over weekend

Sunday is closing day of the meeting, and there will be no shortage of races on the final two days. There are 11 races on Saturday, including three maiden claimers.

The program also includes two stakes - the Santa Barbara and San Simeon handicaps - and a $66,000 allowance race for fillies and mares at a mile on turf. The allowance race features the comeback of Charm the Giant, an allowance race winner at Del Mar last summer.

There are 10 races on Sunday, counting three maiden claimers.