01/09/2003 12:00AM

How will Hula Kat handle one mile?

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PHOENIX - If Saturday's $35,000 Sun Devil at Turf Paradise were a sprint, Hula Kat would surely be a prohibitive favorite.

But the Sun Devil is a mile, and four of the eight 3-year-old fillies entered will be trying the distance and two turns for the first time, including Hula Kat, who still figures to be a mild favorite.

Hula Kat, trained by Bryan Porter, has not been off the board in five career starts, all sprints. She was second in the Ms. Gibson County here Nov. 5, then was a smart winner of the Anderson on Nov. 29, over a number of the same horses she faces Saturday. Last time out in the Bueno Handicap, however, she was mired on the rail, broke slowly, chased the pace from the inside, and finished third behind Almost Fooled and runner-up Silk N Diamonds.

Our Game Plan and Top Penny finished second and third, respectively, to Hula Kat in the Anderson, and like Hula Kat make their first start beyond a sprint. Our Game Plan, trained by Bill Tollett, was beaten a length in the Anderson, finishing six clear of Top Penny in what was her first start at Turf Paradise and first start in four months. She finished behind Hula Kat again in the Bueno and then came back to be second to Top Penny at 4-5 in an allowance sprint here Dec. 31.

Top Penny brings plenty of speed to the mix, and she's likely going to need it from her outside post. Trained by Doug Driever, Top Penny won the Dec. 31 allowance by using her speed to gain position and finishing strongly. She's certainly on the improve and as a daughter of He's Tops, a son of Seattle Slew, she shouldn't have a problem with the distance.

Nate Chavez will ride Top Penny because Seth Martinez, aboard Top Penny for her recent victory, is on Arch Lady instead.

* Management announced last week a purse increase of 5 percent. Under an agreement forged with the Arizona HBPA, this increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the meet, Sept. 27.

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