Updated on 09/16/2011 6:41AM

A quick study starts his year

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile under Jerry Bailey and winner of the Hollywood Futurity, Siphonic looks to be a short price on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The relative ease in which Siphonic has risen to the top of the California 3-year-old division has caught trainer David Hofmans by surprise.

"He does it all," Hofmans said. "He's very willing. He waits for the rider to give commands. I hope I don't get in his way with my training."

So far, Siphonic and Hofmans have received stellar marks. With three wins in four starts, and a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Siphonic is a top contender for the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

On Saturday, * makes his 3-year-old debut in the $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Siphonic will be a short-priced favorite against five others, none of whom has won a graded stakes.

Siphonic has led and won - as he did in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October - but seems more comfortable as a stalker. He used those tactics to win a maiden race at Del Mar last summer and the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity last month, a performance that solidified his status on the national stage.

"The plan is to get him to relax and finish," Hofmans said. "We want him to finish and gallop out good. They'll be some speed in there. It will be a good race to do some educating in the afternoon."

In recent years, the Santa Catalina has been a productive race. The Deputy, the winner in 2000, later won the Santa Anita Derby. Millennium Wind, who is trained by Hofmans, went on to win the Blue Grass Stakes. Both were unplaced in the Kentucky Derby.

The opposing trainers are taking a realistic approach to the Santa Catalina, which is run over 1 1/16 miles. Siphonic has their respect, but many are hoping their colts and geldings can prove they belong in the more lucrative Triple Crown preps in coming months.

Cottonwood Cowboy makes his stakes debut and is likely to be near the lead. A winner of his last two races - a maiden race and an allowance race at Hollywood Park - Cottonwood Cowboy is trained by Christopher Paasch.

"I know Siphonic will be tough," Paasch said. "I've got a rapidly developing 3-year-old that I think is getting better and better. I know he won't embarrass anyone."

Labamta Babe, who finished fourth in the Hollywood Futurity, is the only other starter with Grade 1 experience. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Labamta Babe will be a longshot and could lead early.

Siphonic will be in mid-pack along with the longshots National Park and Major Storm.

National Park, third in the Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 24, is making his dirt debut.

Major Storm has been unplaced in three starts for trainer D. Wayne Lukas following a win in a maiden race on turf at Saratoga last August.

Of the outsiders, Kedington is taking the biggest jump in class, having beaten California-bred maidens over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on Dec. 7 in his last start. Chris McCarron rides Kedington, replacing Alex Solis, who has the mount on Cottonwood Cowboy.

The Santa Catalina will be Kedington's stakes debut.

"We'll see what kind of horse he is," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "At Hollywood, he ran a big race. Solis had to move a little soon. I said, 'I hope he doesn't stop.' He kept going. I never thought he'd be a horse to run against Siphonic."

The cast should help Hofmans reach his strategic goal with Siphonic. Owned by John and Jerry Amerman, Siphonic developed a following after his maiden win on Aug. 26.

The victory in Siphonic's career debut proved to Hofmans that the colt had an exciting future. It ranks as the trainer's favorite race.

"The Breeders' Cup was good because it was the Breeders' Cup," Hofmans said. "For an accomplishment, the maiden race was very gratifying because it was his first start."

After Saturday, Hofmans may need to update his rankings.

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