01/06/2007 1:00AM

Chatain outgames seasoned rivals

Eleanor Gustafson/Horsephotos
Chatain (right) held off a stretch bid from Sir Greeley (left) after overtaking Sweetnorthernsaint (rail).

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Chatain, who had only three previous careers starts and just one race under his belt since leaving south Florida last March, proved talented enough to overcome his relative inexperience for a well-deserved head triumph in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

He outgamed the Grade 1 stakes-placed Sir Greeley and Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint to earn the narrow score.

Chatain's only previous loss came here last spring at the hands of Showing Up, the one-mile track-record holder, so Chatain got a measure of revenge when breaking that mark of 1:34.05 with a final clocking of 1:33.87 in the Hal's Hope. Saturday marked the first time the Hal's Hope had been contested at a mile since its inception in 1990.

Rexson's Hope set the early pace while stalked by Sweetnorthernsaint and Sir Greeley. Chatain raced within easy striking distance under jockey Cornelio Velasquez, saved ground around the second turn, then angled three wide with his bid into the stretch. He overtook Sweetnorthernsaint to gain a short advantage near midstretch, then held on gamely to withstand a final bid from Sir Greeley.

Sir Greeley, second in the Grade 1 Carter in 2006, was forced widest leaving the final turn but appeared to have Chatain measured through the final furlong but could not get by the gritty winner. Sweetnorthernsaint gradually weakened once relinquishing the lead, finishing another length back in third.

Strong Contender, making his first start since capturing the Grade 2 Super Derby on Sept. 23, was never a serious factor and finished fifth in a scratch-reduced field of 11 older horses.

Chatain, a 4-year-old son of Forest Wildcat owned by the Lazy F Ranch, paid $17.80.

"I love this horse and always knew he had a world of talent, but we had a very rough 3-year-old season with him," said trainer Angel Penna Jr. "He had a fever here, an allergy there, and even came down with a quarter crack after I worked him the first time at Palm Meadows in November.

"Hopefully we'll be able to put it all behind us and have a good year in 2007," Penna added. "My goal has been the Donn Handicap, but if he doesn't bounce back properly out of this race, we'll pass the race."