12/18/2003 12:00AM

The Futurity is now

Lion Heart at Santa Anita: He's primed for a big effort in Saturday's Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An eye-catching six-length win in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 15 made Lion Heart a 2-year-old to follow.

A win on Saturday in the Grade 1, $362,000 at Hollywood Park will put him firmly on the Triple Crown trail that will unfold in coming months.

Unbeaten in two starts, Lion Heart will be heavily favored in the Futurity, run over 1 1/16 miles. Trained by Patrick Biancone for Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, Lion Heart faces his first test beyond seven furlongs. His trainer said the colt is ready.

"We've always thought he'd be a nice 3-year-old," Biancone said. "His pedigree seems to carry enough stamina.

"I think it's a concern for everyone until they go two turns. I'd prefer to talk after they do it."

The Futurity is the fourth race on a 10-race program that includes the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap for fillies and mares on turf.

By Tale of the Cat, Lion Heart is shooting to become the first horse since Afternoon Deelites in 1994 to sweep the Prevue and Futurity.

Lion Heart has only four opponents - maiden-race winners Quiet Cash and St. Averil; Saint Afleet, who has won a maiden race and an allowance race at this meeting; and That's an Outrage, who ran seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Lion Heart and St. Averil have speed, while Quiet Cash, Saint Afleet, and That's an Outrage will be farther back.

The distance is a test for St. Averil and Saint Afleet. St. Averil beat maidens by three lengths over six furlongs at Santa Anita on Nov. 9, his career debut. Trained by Rafael Becerra, St. Averil set a quick pace in that race.

Saint Afleet has speed but is also proven to be effective from a stalking position. Saint Afleet's allowance race win by 2 1/2 lengths at six furlongs convinced owner Ron Waranch and trainer Craig Dollase to try the Hollywood Futurity.

"It's not a bad race to try it, with that kind of money," Dollase said. "I'm certain that we've got the fitness in him. A small field helps."

Quiet Cash has never won on dirt. Trained by Bob Baffert, he beat maidens in his fifth career start on Nov. 26, racing over 1 1/16 miles on turf.

That's an Outrage has the most experience in the field, with seven starts and one victory. He is the only member of the field to have started in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25. In a field of 12 that day, he finished 16 1/2 lengths behind the upset winner, Action This Day.

Previously, That's an Outrage needed six races to beat maidens, finally winning at 16-1 at Santa Anita on Oct. 12. That race came two weeks after he finished fourth behind Action This Day in a similar race.

"He had so much to learn," said trainer Mike Puhich. "We took a shot at the Breeders' Cup because it was in our backyard, but it was quick back. He had three races in a short period of time."

Since then, Puhich has taken a more conservative approach with That's an Outrage, and he said the colt has matured.

That's an Outrage was rerouted from the $82,650 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields last weekend for the Futurity after jockey Gary Stevens lobbied Puhich to try the more lucrative race. Stevens was impressed with the way That's an Outrage worked over three furlongs on Dec. 9. He rides That's an Outrage on Saturday.

Puhich is willing to take a chance, but is concerned That's an Outrage's experience in longer races has limited benefits.

"That only gets you so far when you're running against better horses," Puhich said. "But he's outstanding now. He's filled out. I wish he would have been this good on Breeders' Cup Day. I would have liked to have seen what he could have done."