04/05/2005 11:00PM

Calm filly with high-strung trainer

Marty Wygod (left) and Julio Canani are far more nervous than their horse, Sweet Catomine.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Sweet Catomine is behaving with her usual aplomb this week, but her trainer is washing out. Julio Canani never before has run a horse in the Kentucky Derby, or the Santa Anita Derby, let alone a filly, let alone the favorite, which is what Sweet Catomine will be when the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby is run for the 68th time on Saturday.

Couple that with the training adjustment Canani had to make Wednesday morning to protect Sweet Catomine's left rear hoof, and Canani was one part animated, one part agitated, and 100 percent stark-raving mad on Wednesday at Santa Anita.

"I've got to get a Jacuzzi. I've got to relax. I'm [messed] up, okay," were some of the things Canani said while scurrying from the stable area to the track, dropping F-bombs along the way. "I'm going mad."

Marty Wygod, who owns Sweet Catomine with his wife, Pam, and Wygod's confidante, attorney Roger Licht, watched from a safe distance.

"Pam asked me where to make reservations for Saturday," Licht said. "I told her to make Julio's at Cedars-Sinai."

Strapping Canani down on a hospital gurney might be the only way to keep him still. He is sure to wander off and watch the derby alone, up the stretch in the box-seat section, as he did when Sweet Catomine won the Santa Anita Oaks last month. "I can't take this [stuff]," Canani said.

Adding to the stress level Wednesday was that Sweet Catomine was forced to jog, rather than have a routine gallop. She did not have a shoe on her left rear hoof, and the coronet band was wrapped with a protective gauze.

According to Canani, Sweet Catomine dislodged that shoe on Tuesday night. Canani said Sweet Catomine was scheduled to be shod on all four hooves on Wednesday afternoon. He said he did not want to reset her left rear shoe for training on Wednesday, then pull it off and put a new plate on Wednesday afternoon.

"Don't worry," he said. "She's okay. She'll gallop the rest of the week."

Sweet Catomine landed post 2 against 10 males when the field of 11 was drawn on Wednesday morning for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, the final major West Coast prep for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Jeff Tufts, the morning-line maker at Santa Anita, made Sweet Catomine the 7-5 favorite. She carries 117 pounds, five fewer than the males.

The Santa Anita Derby has seen 25 fillies take on males, beginning in 1935. There have been three fillies who won the race - Ciencia in 1939, Silver Spoon in 1959, and Winning Colors in 1988. Both Silver Spoon and Winning Colors were favored. Winning Colors is the last filly to win the Kentucky Derby, and is one of only three to wear the roses.

Sweet Catomine will be facing males for the first time on Saturday, but she has earned the opportunity. Since finishing second in her debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar last July, Sweet Catomine has won five consecutive races. Her victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies earned her the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.

It was after that race, according to Wygod, that he began to entertain the thought of running Sweet Catomine in the Santa Anita Derby and then the Kentucky Derby. Sweet Catomine has complied this year by winning her two preps, the Santa Ysabel Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks.

Wygod has gone so far as to say that if Sweet Catomine doesn't run well enough to go on to the Kentucky Derby, she probably would not go in the Kentucky Oaks. Canani is being more circumspect regarding the whole scenario. "Let's see what happens on Saturday and then talk on Sunday," he said.

"I'm nervous and apprehensive," Wygod said. "I'm much more nervous about this race than the others. The excitement keeps mounting. It's part excitement, part nervousness."

Sweet Catomine was bred by the Wygods in Kentucky. She is a daughter of Storm Cat, and is out of the Kris S. mare Sweet Life. Her pedigree is impeccable, the kind that would have made her a summer-sale yearling had Wygod opted to sell her. But Wygod breeds to race, and said he has dreamed of having a Kentucky Derby runner since he first got interested in the sport in his teens.

"Anybody who races horses, the one thing they think about is the Kentucky Derby," Wygod said.

Physically, Sweet Catomine can hold her own with the boys. She stands 16-1 or 16-2 hands tall, and is solid through her torso.

"She has tremendous substance, tremendous scope," Wygod said.

Sweet Catomine came to her physical maturity much quicker than others of her generation, and towered over other 2-year-olds last fall at the Breeders' Cup. But this spring, many of the males, such as Giacomo, have caught up.

Her temperament has served her in good stead.

"They really named her right," Canani said. "She's the sweetest filly."

Winning Colors also was stoutly built, perhaps even more so than Sweet Catomine, but Winning Colors had a front-running style, whereas Sweet Catomine rallies. The biggest difference, however, is temperament. Winning Colors was aggressive, Sweet Catomine takes it all in. Because of her laid-back style, Sweet Catomine will have to work out a trip to rally from behind from post 2.

"She's a big, strong filly," said jockey Corey Nakatani, who rides Sweet Catomine. "She can handle anything. She's as big as a colt, and she's got the heart of a champion."

"If you worry about them getting in trouble, you might as well not run," Canani said. "Maybe she'll just wink at them at the eighth pole and win by three."

In other Derby developments:

* The Santa Anita Derby also features Derby Watch members Don't Get Mad, Giacomo, and Wilko.

* Also on Saturday are the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. The Wood is the stronger of the two, with Derby Watch members Bellamy Road, Galloping Grocer, Going Wild, Naughty New Yorker, Pavo, and Survivalist.

* If Bandini goes in the Blue Grass, as expected, and John Velazquez sticks with him, Afleet Alex will need a rider for the Arkansas Derby.

* Trainer Ken McPeek said that Wild Desert would make his next start in the Arkansas Derby, and that Patrick Valenzuela would ride.


WHO'S HOT: Greeley's Galaxy, not yet nominated to the Triple Crown, and Rush Bay are the two newest additions to the top 25 of Derby Watch, but both are deep in the rankings because the higher-ranked horses have held their form of late. Greeley's Galaxy, who is running in the Illinois Derby on Saturday at Hawthorne Race Course, is 40-1 on the future line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Rush Bay is 60-1. High Fly, who won the Florida Derby, is now 12-1 after being 15-1 one week ago, and Florida Derby runner-up Noble Causeway is now 15-1 after being 20-1 last week.

WHO'S NOT: Storm Surge was dropped from the list because others are adjudged as having a better chance of running in the Derby, and Vicarage was removed following his disappointing performance in last Saturday's Florida Derby. Watchmaker raised Rockport Harbor from 10-1 to 12-1, and Closing Argument from 40-1 to 50-1.

ON THE BUBBLE: Scrappy T could move back onto the list with a strong effort in the Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct. Kansas City Boy and Magna Graduate are seeking to rebound in the Illinois Derby.

3-year-old graded stakes earnings

The leading contenders for the 131st Kentucky Derby based on earnings in graded stakes races, the tiebreaker if the field exceeds the maximum 20 entries:

1Blues and Royals$1,200,000
2Sweet Catomine1,034,800
4High Fly 796,500
5Afleet Alex645,000
7Sun King365,000
8Greater Good361,344
9High Limit360,000
10Flower Alley300,000
11Rockport Harbor235,700
12Dance With Ravens217,550
13Noble Causeway190,000
14Storm Surge182,640
17Wild Desert131,320
18Bellamy Road120,000
21Diamond Isle90,000
22Closing Argument90,000
23Galloping Grocer70,000
25Don't Get Mad60,000
27Rush Bay44,640
28Kansas City Boy41,000
29Going Wild40,000
31Southern Africa32,790
32Buzzards Bay30,000
34Andromeda's Hero 15,000
35Naughty New Yorker15,000
36Go Coyote Joe12,000
38Golden Shine5,000
39Malibu Moonshine 3,000
40Cat Shaker 0
41Sort It Out 0