12/16/2003 1:00AM

Enough class to get the trip


LAS VEGAS - Late season stakes such as the Hollywood Futurity, Remsen, and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes have in the past showcased late-maturing 2-year-olds who have blossomed into serious racehorses at age 3.

Inaugurated in 1981, the Hollywood Futurity has been the launching pad for many top horses, including Roving Boy, Stephan's Odyssey, Snow Chief, Best Pal, A.P. Indy, Real Quiet, Captain Steve, and Point Given. Siphonic, who died last fall, upset the heavily favored Officer in 2001, and Toccet capped off a brilliant late-season campaign winning last year's running.

Top names who placed in the Hollywood Futurity include future stakes winners Alysheba, Ferdinand, Hawkster, Farma Way, Casual Lies, Stuka, Thunder Gulch, Artax, and Millennium Wind.

While it is highly unlikely that there are any Kentucky Derby contenders in this year's Futurity, to be run Saturday, there is excitement because of the presence of Lion Heart, who is undefeated in two lifetime starts. Lion Heart is by Tale of the Cat, one of many young sons of Storm Cat who are proving highly successful at stud.

Tale of the Cat, who is from the immediate female family that produced 2-year-old champion Johannesburg as well as emerging stallion Pulpit, is a speed influence whose offspring have been most effective from five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. To underscore the high class of this line, Tale of the Cat's fourth dam, Monarchy, is a full sister to Round Table.

While he faced suspect competition in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue on Nov. 15, Lion Heart's six-length victory over four runners in only his second start was nonetheless very impressive. Even over a glib Hollywood surface, Lion Heart's time of 1:20.63 was eye-popping, and there are a number of reasons to believe he should get 1 1/16 miles on Saturday.

Many runners by Tale of the Cat have won at the Hollywood Futurity distance, such as Be Gentle, who captured this year's 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades stakes. Lion Heart gets much-needed stamina from his damsire, Mr. Leader (a multiple stakes winner on turf) as well from Naskra and Bold Reason, who also appear in his pedigree. The prospect of facing just four or five allowance types over a speed-favoring surface also boosts Lion Heart's chances for victory.

Looking to upset Lion Heart are some late-blooming 2-year-olds, including Quiet Cash, That's an Outrage, Mambo Train, St. Averil, and Saint Afleet. Quiet Cash, whose only win came on turf, is a son of a former Hollywood Futurity winner, Real Quiet. That's an Outrage, who finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is by Quiet American (the sire of Real Quiet) out of a Known Fact mare who descends from a stellar Christiana Stable female family. Mambo Train is a son of Kingmambo who is unplaced in three stakes tries since winning a maiden race at Del Mar. Mambo Train is certainly bred to get 1 1/16 miles but his future will probably be on turf.

Victory U. S. A. looks tough

Sunday's Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies features an overwhelming favorite in Victory U. S. A., who was last seen romping home by six lengths in the Moccasin Stakes on Nov. 16. Victory U. S. A. had previously finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and just missed winning the Frizette Stakes. She is the best runner thus far from the first crop of Belmont Stakes winner and champion older horse Victory Gallop, which also includes stakes winner Galloping Gal and stakes-placed Notorious Rogue. In a tight race for leading freshman stallion honors (based in the U.S.) according to their offspring's earnings, Stravinsky leads Victory Gallop by less than $40,000, and a win by Victory U. S. A. would catapult Victory Gallop into the lead. Victory U. S. A. is out of a daughter of multiple stakes winner Foresta, and is bred to be best at middle distances.

Trying to pull off an upset in the Starlet is the very accomplished maiden Hollywood Story. Although she is winless in four starts, Hollywood Story finished second in the Del Mar Debutante, third in the Oak Leaf Stakes, and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juveniles Fillies. Hollywood Story is from the second crop of Metropolitan Handicap winner Wild Rush, and out of a Dynaformer mare from a stakes-producing Spendthrift Farm female family.

Prospective Starlet runner Rings and Things should only get better with maturity and distance, being by stamina influence Thunder Gulch (the sire of Point Given and Spain), and a half-sister to the very quick Crafty C.T.

Rahy Dolly, who won her maiden debut by 11 lengths on Nov. 9, is a daughter of Rahy, whose reputation as a strong filly sire was cemented with such outstanding runners as Serena's Song, Mariah's Storm, Exotic Wood, Raw Gold, Tranquility Lake, and Tates Creek. House of Fortune is from the first crop of the ultra-game and talented Free House, and her second dam is stakes winner Delicate Vine. Dixie High won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes and is by speed influence Anet (Clever Trick) out of a Dixieland Band mare who is from the female family that produced Relaunch, Rubiano, Glitterman, Chimes Band, Freefourinternet, and Tapit.

But Victory U. S. A. and Hollywood Story have performed admirably against the best of their division, and the others appear overmatched.