03/03/2004 12:00AM

Eight willing to take a shot vs. 'Perfect'


ARCADIA, Calif. - Darrell Vienna had a quick answer when asked what it would take for Star Cross, whom Vienna trains, to beat top older horse Pleasantly Perfect in Saturday's $1 million .

"Maybe he will scratch," Vienna said.

Despite the presence of Pleasantly Perfect, who won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic here last October, nine horses entered the Big Cap on Wednesday. Saint Buddy drew the rail, followed by Southern Image, Royal Place, Island Fashion, Pleasantly Perfect, Star Cross, Toccet, Olmodavor, and Buddy Gil.

Island Fashion would be the first female to start in the Big Cap since Serena's Song finished seventh in 1996. No filly or mare has won the Big Cap, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.

The Big Cap is the 10th race on an 11-race program that begins at noon Pacific. The card also features the 2004 debut of the undefeated Lion Heart in the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes for 3-year-olds and the $350,000 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf.

Star Cross will mark the first Big Cap starter for Vienna, a trainer since 1976.

Owned by Ernest Auerbach, the Argentine-bred Star Cross has won 8 of 24 starts and $298,299. Since being fitted with blinkers last fall, Star Cross, 7, has not been worse than second, winning consecutive stakes in the Forty Niner Handicap at Golden Gate Fields in November and the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap here on Jan. 3.

In the San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31, Star Cross finished second to Pleasantly Perfect, losing by four lengths. It was their second meeting. In October, Pleasantly Perfect won the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, with Star Cross third.

Saturday, Pleasantly Perfect will carry top weight of 123 pounds, with Star Cross assigned 114. Jockey Corey Nakatani tacks more than 114 pounds, and is more likely to carry 115 or 116 for the race.

"It's silly to think we'll beat him when you compare performances," Vienna said. "Having said that, we'll try to beat him. That doesn't dampen our enthusiasm.

"It's a big enough purse if you run second or third you do okay. It's like winning a major stakes."

Star Cross is likely to race as a stalker even though he led in the four-runner San Antonio. Island Fashion is expected to contribute to the pace along with Toccet and Buddy Gil, who were eighth and 10th in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 7.

Wednesday, Buddy Gill breezed a half-mile in 47.20 seconds while Island Fashion breezed the same distance in 48.40 seconds.