01/19/2004 12:00AM

One prep said more than the other

Second of June wins the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park by 2 3/4 lengths with a powerful finish and a strong gallop-out, looking like a colt eager to race a longer distance.

NEW YORK - The Holy Bull Stakes is not like the Fountain of Youth when it comes to making an impact on the Kentucky Derby, and it certainly isn't close to the Florida Derby or any other major prep. Likewise, the Santa Catalina has never been mistaken for the San Felipe, let alone the Santa Anita Derby.

But the Holy Bull and the Santa Catalina, which were renewed Saturday at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita, respectively, are not without meaning on the long list of Derby preps. The Holy Bull (known as the Preview from 1990 through 1995) has produced two Kentucky Derby winners. Go for Gin won the Preview in 1994, and Funny Cide finished fifth in last year's Holy Bull after being severely compromised by post 13.

As for the Santa Catalina, it has been around in one form or another since 1935. In recent times, the race was of service to the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, who won it in his second start at 3. In 1999, Charismatic finished fifth in the Santa Catalina well before developing into the colt who engineered a Derby upset.

It is important to establish that the Holy Bull and Santa Catalina do have some worth despite coming so early in the season - weeks from the Kentucky Derby - so that discussion of these races will not be classified as hyperbole. And Saturday's runnings of the Holy Bull and Santa Catalina do merit discussion, for different reasons. In my opinion, the winner of one of these races ranks as a dangerous 3-year-old who will probably be underrated. The other winner is likely to be overrated, and while he has lots of time to improve, he is going to have to do just that to match a reputation that will probably only grow.

The colt who impressed me Saturday was the Holy Bull winner, Second of June. Second of June had a coming-out party of sorts last month when he won the What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder by five lengths. Third behind him that day was Silver Wagon, who was making his first start off a four-month layoff and his first attempt at two turns. The thinking of the majority of the betting public, myself included, was that Silver Wagon would improve in the Holy Bull and turn the tables on Second of June.

Silver Wagon did improve Saturday. He finished 10 lengths in front of his closest pursuer. The problem for him and those who backed him was that Second of June took another step forward, too. Second of June, caught four wide around the first turn, eagerly took over when given his head nearing the stretch. Silver Wagon made a run at him in upper stretch, and then ducked in toward the rail when he was hit right-handed in midstretch. That had absolutely no impact on the outcome, however. In the final furlong, Second of June leveled off impressively and ran on powerfully to score by nearly three lengths, galloping out strongly in the manner of a colt begging for more distance.

A son of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze and out of a Spectacular Bid mare, Second of June should only be more effective going longer than the 1 1/16 miles he was afforded Saturday. Heady stuff for a colt who went for only $7,500 at a 2-year-old sale.

I'm a little more skeptical about the prospects of Santa Catalina winner St Averil, which may be a dangerous position to take on a $500,000 yearling purchase who improved his career record Saturday to 2 wins from 3 starts, with his one loss being a second to the undefeated Lion Heart in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. St Averil rarely, however, will be as perfectly set up in future races as he was in the Santa Catalina, and he had to work disappointingly hard to capitalize on it.

St Averil was in a dream spot early, sitting off a pace of 22.75 and 45.61 seconds contested by three opponents. For new 3-year-olds going two turns, that was a hot pace as well as destructive. Nevertheless, St Averil had to feel the whip at least a dozen times from the top of the stretch to the wire to close from close range and beat Lucky Pulpit by 1 1/2 lengths.

A strong case can be made that Lucky Pulpit ran every bit as well as, if not better than, St Averil because he was a participant in the three-way battle for the early lead, and was the one hung out three wide all the way. And, since Lucky Pulpit finished seventh, beaten nearly 21 lengths, in the Norfolk Stakes in his only previous stakes attempt on dirt, I think I'll pass right now on a seat on the St Averil bandwagon.