03/14/2005 12:00AM

Expectations high for maiden I'll Prey for You

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Handicappers have waited nine months to bet on the maiden colt I'll Prey for You. When he returns Wednesday in race 3 at Santa Anita, the ledger will close on one of the most productive maiden races ever run in Southern California.

It was race 2 at Hollywood Park last May 30, and was a second-time starter racing five furlongs. He ran super to finish second with a 91 Beyer, and then disappeared. His rivals, however, did not - six won next time out. I'll Prey for You is the last horse to run back from the May 30 race.

The winner of the race, Diligent Prospect, won next out, as did the third- through seventh-place finishers. The race was fast (56.29 seconds) and legitimate. Diligent Prospect won an allowance in December before being sidelined again with a shin injury; fourth-place finisher Golden Shine will be among the favorites Saturday in the Grade 2 San Felipe; and seventh-place finisher Go Coyote Joe finished fourth in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina on March 5. Even the last-place finisher, Littlebitofzip, won two starts later and is graded-stakes-placed.

So what happened to I'll Prey for You? "He hurt a hind ankle, and we had to give him four months," said trainer Doug O'Neill. The injury did not require surgery, and the only procedure that was considered was castration.

"We talked about that, but he's mellowed out a ton, so we were able to keep him intact," O'Neill said.

I'll Prey for You returns with solid works, and though O'Neill said he expects a good effort, he warned, "He may a be a work or two short, or a race away. We don't have him completely cranked."

I'll Prey for You's main rival is , who finished a fast-closing fourth in his Dec. 26 debut. Storm Wolf earned an 82 Beyer, and his race was flattered when winner Going Wild emerged as one of the top 3-year-olds in the country and runner-up Only in Reno won next out with a 103 Beyer.

* Wednesday's card also features two allowance races. In race 2, for Cal-bred 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, K C Nite Mayr goes long off a big sprint win and faces Juliesugardaddy, who finished fifth last out in the Santa Catalina. In race 7, Lazzeri will try for his second turf-sprint win of the meet.

King of the key Races

I'll Prey for You finished second in race 2 at Hollywood Park on May 30, 2004. Here is what each of starters did next out, listed by order of finish May 30.

HorseNext StartClassFinish
Diligent ProspectDec. 30 N1XWin
I'll Prey for YouMarch 16MSW Wed.
Swiss SilverJune 30MSWWin
Golden ShineJuly 3MSWWin
Things HappenJuly 15MSWWin
Silent ExploitJuly 8M40Win
Go Coyote JoeJan. 8MSWWin
Who's AleynaJuly 4M62.52nd
El PerfectoJuly 23M1007th
*LittlebitofzipJuly 10MSW5th

* Won his next start Aug. 25 / MSW