03/01/2004 12:00AM

An all-Mandella exacta?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Boosted by major stakes wins at this meeting, the veteran Pleasantly Perfect and the upstart Southern Image bring multi-race winning streaks into Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic last October and the San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31, has been assigned top weight of 123 pounds, spotting seven expected rivals from four to 12 pounds. Owned by Gerald Ford, he has won 7 of 14 starts and $3,009,880.

Southern Image, the winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 and the Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds on Jan. 24, will carry 118 pounds. He will be trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

Pleasantly Perfect will be favored, while Southern Image will be well-backed in a field expected to include Buddy Gil, Island Fashion, Olmodavor, Royal Place, Saint Buddy, Star Cross, and Toccet.

Pleasantly Perfect and Olmodavor are trained by Richard Mandella, who is trying for his third Big Cap win. Mandella swept the first three positions in 1997 with Siphon, Sandpit, and Gentleman, and won with Malek in 1998.

Mandella worked both his hopefuls on Monday and said a winning exacta from his stable is not far-fetched.

Olmodavor, the winner of the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last December and the Whirlaway Handicap at Fair Grounds last month, worked five furlongs in 58 seconds in company with the Spellbinder.

"He deserves a chance in this lineup," Mandella said of Olmodavor, who will carry 119. "I don't think we've seen his best race."

Mandella thought the pair worked too quickly.

"Obviously, they're doing better than I thought," he said.

Later, Pleasantly Perfect worked five furlongs in 1:00.40. He worked alone and wore blinkers.

"We're just trying to open his eyes for next week," he said.

Sunday, Southern Image worked five furlongs in 58.60, the second fastest of 57 recorded works at the distance. Owned by a partnership, Southern Image has worked quickly in recent weeks, breezing six furlongs in 1:11.40 on Feb. 15 and seven furlongs in 1:22.60 at Hollywood Park on Feb. 21.

"I think he can win it," trainer Mike Machowsky said. "[But] Pleasantly Perfect has it over him with experience. He's more seasoned, more of a professional racehorse. He's run 14 times to my five times."

Also on Sunday, Toccet, winless in three starts at this meeting, worked a half-mile in 47.60. He will carry 113 pounds, and will be ridden for the first time by Emile Ramsammy.

"I see him on the pace," trainer John Scanlan said. "We'll go to the front and see if they can catch him."

Monday, trainer Rafael Becerra worked Royal Place and Saint Buddy, who will be longshots. Working as a team, Saint Buddy worked in 1:00.20, while Royal Place was timed in 1:00.80. Neither is a stakes winner but both have won at this meeting.

Island Fashion, a 4-year-old filly, will be entered but a decision on whether she starts will be made Saturday, trainer Marcelo Polanco said. Island Fashion has won two seven-furlong stakes for females at this meeting - the La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26 and the Santa Monica Handicap on Jan. 25.

She was entered for the El Encino Stakes on Jan. 18 and the Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 16, but was scratched. If she starts in the Big Cap, she would be the first female starter since Serena's Song, who finished seventh in 1996.

No female has won the Big Cap, but two among 40 starters have finished second - Next Move (1951) and Gamely (1969).

The Big Cap field lost a potential runner on Sunday when trainer Bob Baffert said Sarava, the upset winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes, would not start. Baffert said he was not happy with Sarava's 114-pound assignment. He expected less.

"I thought we'd get an advantage and we didn't," Baffert said.

The Oaklawn Handicap on April 3 is a possibility for Sarava.