03/14/2005 1:00AM

One step closer to history

Email
Horsephotos
Sweet Catomine, Corey Nakatani up, shown after her win in Sunday's Santa Anita Oaks. Her owners, Pam and Marty Wygod, said her next race will be in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby, where she will make her first start against males.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Only three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby, the last of whom was Winning Colors in 1988. At Santa Anita that spring, Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Oaks, subsequently ran away with the Santa Anita Derby in her first start against males, and then moved on to Churchill Downs for her date with destiny.

Sweet Catomine is now on course to try to emulate Winning Colors. She won Sunday's , will head next to the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 9, and if she whips the boys here, she will take them on again in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Sweet Catomine earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for her victory, one of several noteworthy performances by Derby prospects this past weekend. At Fair Grounds, High Limit remained unbeaten with a gate-to-wire victory in the Louisiana Derby. He got a Beyer Figure of 105, the best two-turn number by any 3-year-old this year. At Gulfstream Park, Bellamy Road earned a 96 for his 15 3/4-length victory against allowance company. And at Bay Meadows, Uncle Denny got a 90 for his win in the El Camino Real Derby.

The Derby trail is every bit as compelling this Saturday. An outstanding field headed by Wilko, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, is scheduled to go in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor are set to square off in the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Sun King, the best of trainer Nick Zito's deep crop of 3-year-olds, should be a heavy favorite in the Grade 3, $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby. And New York stalwarts Galloping Grocer and Naughty New Yorker are scheduled to go in the Grade 3, $150,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

But the big news of the week centered around Sweet Catomine. Her presence adds intrigue to the Santa Anita Derby, only days after the race lost Eclipse Award winner Declan's Moon to a knee injury.

Like Winning Colors, Sweet Catomine is a big, strapping filly. Their styles, though, are in contrast. Winning Colors would go to the lead and dare anyone to catch her. Sweet Catomine lays off the pace and inhales her rivals on the far turn.

Sunday's Santa Anita Oaks victory was the second straight for both trainer Julio Canani and owners Marty and Pam Wygod, who won last year's race with Silent Sighs. But while Silent Sighs was pointed to the Kentucky Oaks, Marty Wygod has higher hopes for Sweet Catomine.

"The Santa Anita Derby is next," he said. "That's what we had in mind for quite a while."

Sweet Catomine "came out of the race very good," Canani said Monday morning. "I loved the way she galloped out. I had trained her easy. I had never asked her for speed in the morning or nothing."

Canani was fretting before the race because of the light rain that fell throughout the day. He made a point of thanking Santa Anita's track superintendent, Steve Wood, after the race. "You are my man," Canani said to Wood.

High Limit came off a 4 1/2-month layoff to win the Louisiana Derby in his first start for trainer Bobby Frankel, and remains unbeaten in three starts. Frankel said High Limit would make his next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 16. He will train in the interim at Palm Meadows in Florida, where he was prepared for the Louisiana Derby.

Frankel acknowledged that High Limit benefited from an easy trip and said High Limit switched leads awkwardly because he encountered the starting gate's tire tracks at the sixteenth pole.

"I don't want to call him a superstar yet," Frankel said Monday. "He beat some nice horses, but no Derby winners.

"I'm leaning toward the Blue Grass because it gives him an extra week off," he said. "I think that extra week is more important now."

Uncle Denny was not nominated to the Triple Crown in January, but he is expected to be nominated for the $6,000 late fee this month following his victory on Saturday in the El Camino Real Derby. His trainer, Rafael Becerra, said he would talk to owner Stan Fulton before deciding on his next start, but said the Santa Anita Derby was among the logical choices.

Bellamy Road was making his first start for Zito, and he could not have been more impressive. Zito on Monday said Bellamy Road would make his next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9.

Zito said Sun King came out of a workout Saturday in excellent condition and was on target for the Tampa Bay Derby. He said the Blue Grass was scheduled to be Sun King's final prep for the Derby.

"The timing suits him," said Zito. "The Blue Grass obviously will be a tough race, but I'd rather have more time going into the Blue Grass, because then you're already in Kentucky for the Derby."

In addition to Wilko, the San Felipe is scheduled to include five other members of the top 25 of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch: Consolidator, Don't Get Mad, Giacomo, Golden Shine, and Roman Ruler. Giacomo worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 on Monday at Hollywood Park. On Sunday at Hollywood Park, Golden Shine went six furlongs in 1:14. Consolidator worked five furlongs in 1:00 on Sunday at Santa Anita.

In other Derby developments:

* Trainer John Servis remained optimistic that Rockport Harbor would make the Rebel despite a hind-foot injury suffered over the weekend.

* Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said San Felipe Stakes runner-up Going Wild would make his next start in the Wood Memorial rather than the Santa Anita Derby.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini

Weekend update: 3-year-olds

Top winners last weekend based on Beyer Speed Figures:

RACETRACKWINNERBEYER
Louisiana DerbyFair GroundsHigh Limit105
Second-level allowanceGulfstreamBellamy Road96
Santa Anita Oaks Santa AnitaSweet Catomine95
Fair Grounds OaksFair GroundsSummerly95
El Camino Real DerbyBay MeadowsUncle Denny90