05/13/2003 11:00PM

Santa Catarina, Baffert tough team in Susan

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It may be a surprise if trainer Bob Baffert bags his third straight Preakness on Saturday, but it would certainly not be shocking if the white-haired trainer captures his second career Black-Eyed Susan when that race is run for the 78th time Friday at Pimlico.

The runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks, the Baffert-trained Santa Catarina figures to go off as a strong favorite in the Grade 2, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan, which drew a field of 10 but lost Holiday Lady at scratch time. Baffert won this race in 1999 with Silverbulletday.

Santa Catarina, who finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, has had to fill the shoes of Composure, who was considered Baffert's top 3-year-old filly coming into the year but suffered a career-ending injury in March.

The Oaks was only Santa Catarina's second start of the year. Breaking from post 11 under Gary Stevens, Santa Catarina found herself in seventh position and five wide entering the first turn. She remained wide down the backstretch, made a bid for the lead at the three-eighths pole, and was still in front at the eighth pole before giving way late to Bird Town.

"It was a very rough trip for her," Baffert said. "She was outside the whole way, and she got in a little tight in the stretch. I thought she ran a great race. Gary Stevens taught her something: that she doesn't have to go out there and go to the lead."

Stevens, who has won the Black-Eyed Susan three times, will ride Santa Catarina from post 7.

Only three of the field's nine remaining fillies have won at the race's distance of nine furlongs.

Roar Emotion went gate to wire to win the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes last year at Aqueduct. She has raced only once this year, finishing second to Cyber Secret in the Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct in March. This will be her first start in 55 days, but she won the Demoiselle off a 43-day layoff.

With Roar Emotion breaking from post 2 and coming in fresh, it would not be surprising to see her on the front end under John Velazquez.

"I wouldn't mind seeing her on the lead if she's doing it the right way," trainer Carlos Martin said.

Ivanavinalot has also won at nine furlongs, taking the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss from just off the pace in March. Ivanavinalot finished last in the Ashland, but that race can be thrown out as she was slammed from both sides at the break, forced wide into the first turn, and did not handle the Keeneland surface.

Jockey Mark Guidry "felt he got slammed so hard out of there, he basically galloped her around," trainer Kathleen O'Connell said. "It was a disaster, and I'd like to pretend that never happened."

Edgar Prado has picked up the mount on Ivanavinalot.

Fircroft is the only other entrant to have won at the distance, but that was in an off-the-turf stakes at Aqueduct last fall.

The top local hopeful is Grace Bay, a Maryland-bred filly who is 2 for 2 at Pimlico, including a 5 1/2-length win in the restricted Caesar's Wish Stakes on April 26.