06/14/2003 12:00AM

Santa Catarina takes Breeders' Cup Oaks


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Santa Catarina finally found a stakes she could win in Saturday's $206,200 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks.

After placing in five major stakes in the last 10 months, Santa Catarina dominated four opponents in the Grade 2 Oaks, closing from last to win by a convincing four lengths over Buffythecenterfold.

Ridden by Gary Stevens, Santa Catarina finished 1 1-16 miles in 1:41.62. The final time was a stakes record, but only the fifth time the Oaks has been run over 1 1-16 miles.

"I think she has room for improvement," Stevens said.

Santa Catarina was last on the first turn, but moved closer to pacesetter Princess V. on the backstretch.

"She put herself into the race," Stevens said. "At the three-eighths pole, I called on her and she really accelerated."

With a wide rally, Santa Catarina reached contention on the final turn, engaged Buffythecenterfold in early stretch and pulled clear in the final furlong.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Robert and Beverly Lewis, Santa Catarina has won 3 of 9 starts and $600,260. She was second in the Kentucky Oaks and third in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in May.

Buffythecenterfold finished five lengths clear of Princess V., who was followed by Miss Bridget Jones and Harbor Blues. Cinema Paradisa, Dash for Money and Ela Ela were scratched.