03/04/2004 12:00AM

Lion Heart vulnerable to solid Lucky Pulpit


ARCADIA, Calif. - Even without a giant rainbow to chase, opportunity exists to make a score Saturday at Santa Anita.

Oh sure, the million-dollar pick six guarantee remains in place on races 6 through 11. And the sequence even includes two potential singletons - San Rafael Stakes favorite Lion Heart in race 7, and Santa Anita Handicap favorite Pleasantly Perfect in race 10.

But regarding the pick six, Santa Anita officials have reason for concern. A $1.4 million carryover Wednesday generated a gross pool of $7.3 million, most of which ended in just a few pockets - three winning tickets paid more than $1.5 million.

So the question Saturday is, do bettors have enough money to support a million-dollar guaranteed pool in the pick six, and a $500,000 Magna 5 guarantee? Or is everyone pretty much tapped out? Santa Anita purchased insurance to guarantee that both pools Saturday reach advertised levels. Meanwhile, bettors tired of chasing a wager as slippery as the pick six might reevaluate. Besides, only one of the two potential singletons on Saturday is solid. The other is ripe to be upset in the San Rafael.

This is no knock on Lion Heart. He is a fast horse who did nothing wrong last year, reeling off three wins from three starts, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. He returns Saturday with a solid work pattern, high speed figures, and a demeanor that exudes class.

He also will start at depressed odds in a race designed as a prep for the Santa Anita Derby. Lion Heart may be good enough to win the San Rafael, even starting for the first time in two and a half months. He gives five pounds, however, and a current condition advantage to a horse going in with much in his favor, including price.

Lucky Pulpit removed doubt about his ability on dirt when he pressed an absurd pace in the Santa Catalina, made the lead a furlong out, and was worn down. Lucky Pulpit is more effective running at a target, and there are several to aim for in the San Rafael - including Lion Heart, Hosco, and Hasslefree.

Beyond strategy, the Quirin-style pace figure Lucky Pulpit earned last out was his highest ever. Yet rather than a corresponding speed-figure decline - when they go fast early, usually they go slow late - Lucky Pulpit earned the highest speed figure of his career. The pattern is powerful. Lucky Pulpit is a colt whose form is going through the roof. At 5-1 or higher, Saturday is the right time to to make a straight win bet on Lucky Pulpit.

The odds are lower on Pleasantly Perfect, the favorite to win the Santa Anita Handicap. If racing were free of chaos, 6-5 odds would be generous. Grade 1 handicap races are won by Grade 1-caliber horses, and Pleasantly Perfect is certainly that. Possibly the only one in the field. But the problem with accepting low odds is it fails to account for the unpredictable nature of horse racing.

Things happen that are beyond control. Horses interfere with each other. Unexpectedly, the pace can come up weird. Eight other riders will have their eye on Pleasantly Perfect, who must be the best horse in the race, carry high weight, maneuver through the field, and try to win, even while saving something for the $6 million Dubai World Cup in three weeks.

Pleasantly Perfect is good enough to do it all, and he remains the most probable winner on the Big Cap card. Pick six bettors, if any remain, can merely single the favorite and move on. But for a one-race wager, Pleasantly Perfect leaves something to be desired because his odds leave no margin for error. Similarly,

5-2 second favorite Southern Image will be undervalued racing for the first time in a graded route race, and first time at a mile and a quarter. Instead, two other Big Cap starters are likely to be overlooked: Star Cross and Royal Place.

Star Cross enters on a logical progression, having raced in the two main preps - the San Pasqual, which he won, and the the San Antonio, in which he finished second. His form and figures are acceptable, the pace will be swift enough to run at, and the 1 1/4-mile distance is right up his alley.

On form, Star Cross cannot beat Pleasantly Perfect. But Star Cross carries nine pounds less (123 to 114), has trained super since his last start, and his price is 10 times higher than the chalk. At very least, Star Cross should hit the board. It's a better chance than some of the others.

The unlucky trip that Saint Buddy endured in the Strub would be relevant had he previously shown he was Grade 1 caliber. He has not. One cannot back a horse merely because of a bad trip. Saint Buddy is likely to be overbet. It's the same with Buddy Gil, whose brutal Strub trip went largely unnoticed. He steadied three times, and never established position. But is he good enough? There is doubt.

Royal Place is not good enough, either. But he is 30-1, and trainer Rafael Becerra has a history of hitting the board with big-race longshots. His in-the-money stakes wackos include Buttertart, second at 33-1; Judge Swiss, third at 20-1; Vixen Storm, third at 72-1; Here Comes Big C, third at 30-1; and First Journey, third at 34-1. Becerra's stakes starters may not win, but they often sneak into the trifecta.

At 30-1 or higher, Royal Place can be keyed to finish third in the trifecta under logical contenders Pleasantly Perfect, Star Cross and Southern Image.

A trifecta bettor may not find a pot of gold at the end of the Big Cap rainbow, particularly one likely to be dominated by Pleasantly Perfect. But on Saturday, there is nothing wrong with a small score produced by a straight bet on San Rafael longshot Lucky Pulpit, and a Big Cap trifecta that includes Star Cross or Royal Place.