03/23/2002 1:00AM

Golden Apples takes Santa Ana


ARCADIA, Calif. - The winter officially ended for Golden Apples on Saturday when she won her seasonal debut in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap at Santa Anita against an outstanding field of older fillies and mares.

Since November, when Golden Apples finished third in the Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park, trainer Ben Cecil had anxiously awaited the continuation of the 4-year-old filly's career in the Grade 2 Santa Anita.

"It's hard when you've got your best horse sitting in the barn, but it was worth it in the end," Cecil said.

Overcoming a slow pace, Golden Apples beat a talented field that included four other Grade 1 winners.

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Golden Apples closed from last in the final half-mile to catch Starine in the final furlong. Starine, the 2-1 favorite who was making her first start since winning the 2001 Matriarch Stakes, finished two lengths in front of Astra, who was followed by Tout Charmant, Catz, Desiraes My Candy, Janet, Impeachable and So Wistfullee.

Tout Charmant and Starine shared the lead through a modest pace of 24.28 and 48.52 seconds. On the final turn, the pair were joined by Astra, who rallied three-wide. Gomez kept Golden Apples on the inside through the second turn, circled a fading Catz in early stretch, and rallied on the rail to catch Starine.

"There was no pace and she still rallied," Cecil said.

Golden Apples won by 1 1-4 lengths, finishing 1 1-8 miles on turf in 1:47.05.

Owned by Gary Tanaka, Golden Apples has won 4 of 9 starts and $600,199. Last year, she won two important stakes, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

"She could be any kind of filly," Cecil said.

*Earlier on the program, Roman Dancer pulled away from three rivals on the backstretch to win his second stakes in the $79,275 San Pedro Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters.

Roman Dancer ($7) was dueling for the lead in the middle of the track when he was urged to the lead by jockey Kent Desormeaux. The move was the difference.

Roman Dancer led by 1 1-2 lengths on the turn and was not threatened in the stretch. He drew off to win by 3 1-2 lengths, finishing 6 1-2 furlongs in 1:16.36.

"I think having the speed to the inside really helped," trainer Christopher Paasch said. "We got him to relax a little and when we asked him he was there."

Werblin, the even-money favorite, finished second, and was followed by Saturday Hero, Mighty David and Shuffling Kid.

The San Pedro was Roman Dancer's second career stakes win, coming five months after a four-length score in the minor Sunny Slope Stakes over this track.

Owned by Lorraine and Rod Rodriguez, Roman Dancer has won 3 of 8 starts and $177,949.