08/20/2005 12:00AM

Win can't dull Baffert's pain


DEL MAR, Calif. - The dark sunglasses were more than just a fashion statement for Bob Baffert on Friday afternoon.

Just hours after his top 2-year-old, What a Song, was euthanized because of a leg injury suffered in a morning gallop, Baffert was trying his best to hide his true emotions during the race program.

On any other day, the eight-race program would have been a memorable one. Baffert won two races, including the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap with the unbeaten Behaving Badly.

In the winner's circle after the race, Baffert's quick smile and familiar silly jokes were missing. He looked miserable, like he wanted to be anywhere else.

What a Song was unbeaten in three starts, the latest of which was an easy win in the Best Pal Stakes here on Aug. 14. Purchased for $1.9 million by Bob and Beverly Lewis at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training, What a Song looked to be a contender for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile later this year.

"It was tough. It's part of horse racing that you never quite get used to," Baffert said in the winner's circle. "When something happens like this, it's pretty devastating.

"I've gotten a lot of calls from people, friends, that feel horrible."

Hal Earnhardt, who owns Behaving Badly with his wife, Patti, can empathize with Baffert. In December 1998, Premier Property, owned by Earnhardt and trained by Baffert, broke down after the finish of the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and could not be saved. Like What a Song, Premier Property had massive potential.

Earnhardt spoke only briefly with Baffert before Behaving Badly's race.

"He was definitely pretty down when I got here," Earnhardt said of Baffert. "I didn't ask him too much. He told me and I left it at that."

Even though he was only an observer, Earnhardt had become an admirer of What a Song.

"He was pretty special," Earnhardt said.

Behaving Badly prominent throughout

Behaving Badly was always near the front in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, she stalked pacesetter Dee Dee's Diner through early fractions of 21.89 and 44.26 seconds, took the lead in early stretch, and won by 1 1/4 lengths.

"She's quite a filly," Baffert said. "Today, she had to work at it. Victor rode her with a lot of confidence."

Freakin Streakin finished second, a length in front of Dee Dee's Diner in a field of eight fillies and mares.

The race marked Behaving Badly's stakes debut. Behaving Badly beat maidens in her career debut at Del Mar in 2004, but was off until this meeting, when she won an allowance race on July 24.

"To have two wins and step into a Grade 3 and win is pretty exciting," Earnhardt said. "She had a year off because of different things. Bob and I have a deal. The horses get plenty of time."

By Pioneering, Behaving Badly has won $153,000. A New York-bred, she will be pointed for stakes at Belmont Park this fall, Baffert said.

Another turf course record

The course record for 1 1/16 miles on turf was lowered on Friday when Cheroot won an allowance race for statebreds in 1:39.68. The previous mark of 1:39.76 was set on July 27 by the $50,000 claimer Coronado's Pride.

Cheroot led throughout to win by three lengths, his third victory in his last five starts. Trained by Darrell Vienna for breeder Charlotte Wrather, Cheroot needed seven races to beat maidens, but has improved since that race in May. On turf, Cheroot has won 2 of 3 starts.

"We've talked about this horse improving, and it may not be just the turf," Vienna said.

In the winner's circle after Friday's race, Vienna said he did not think of Cheroot as a potential track-record holder "until five minutes ago. He's on the improve. We know that."

The turf course has played very quick at this meeting. Two course records have been set, including five furlongs in 55 seconds by Whata Soldier on Aug. 5.

Indian Breeze works for Debutante

The $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 27 is likely to have at least nine starters, including the stakes winners Bully Bones, Indian Breeze, and River's Prayer.

Saturday, Indian Breeze, the winner of the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 2, worked a half-mile in 50.20 seconds under jockey Patrick Valenzuela. She finished eighth behind Bully Bones in the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 6.

Trainer Adam Kitchingman said Saturday's slow workout did not surprise him. "She's the worst work horse I've ever seen, but she runs well when she works slow," he said.

The other probable starters include Diplomat Lady, Golden Silk, Miss Norman, Mystery Girl, Slick Road, and Wild Fit.

The Grade 1 race at seven furlongs is the championship race of the meeting for 2-year-old fillies.