01/15/2004 1:00AM

St Averil favored in Santa Catalina


ARCADIA, Calif. - Seven of the last 10 winners of the Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita have gone on to start in the Kentucky Derby. It is not just the winners who have merited attention. In 1999, Charismatic finished last of five in the Santa Catalina, but later won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Getting to such races is the goal of the people behind the nine 3-year-olds entered in Saturday's running of the $150,000 .

Run over 1 1/16 miles on dirt, the Grade 2 Santa Catalina includes four colts and geldings who have placed in graded stakes around two turns.

was second to Lion Heart in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20, and he is likely to be the Santa Catalina favorite.

His toughest competition should come from Master David, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 29; Perfect Moon, the third-place finisher in the Grade 3 Norfolk and $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes last fall; and That's an Outrage, who was third in the Hollywood Futurity.

Preachinatthebar will be making his stakes debut after beating maidens at Hollywood Park on Dec. 17. Other starters are Harvard Avenue, Lucky Pulpit, Saltire, and Mambo Train, all longshots.

Preachinatthebar is trained by Bob Baffert, who won the Santa Catalina with Kentucky Derby starters General Challenge (1999) and Domestic Dispute (2003).

St Averil is a quick colt who could lead in a race void of a confirmed front-runner. Owned by Stan Fulton, St Averil won his career debut by three lengths over 6 1/2 furlongs here Nov. 9.

In the Hollywood Futurity, St Averil chased the quick Lion Heart, failed to catch that colt in early stretch, but stayed on through the stretch.

"I hope he doesn't bounce on me," Becerra said. "I didn't do much, just work him a few times."

Lion Heart remains one of the top 3-year-old prospects in California and will not start againuntil March.

"That day he was the best horse," Becerra said. "He had things his own way."

Both Master David and Perfect Moon are closers.

Master David finished a well-beaten second to Read the Footnootes in the Remsen, his first start since arriving from England, where he won a maiden race in his third start.

He joined Bobby Frankel's stable in December.

Perfect Moon joined trainer Doug O'Neill's stable in September, after winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar for trainer Mel Stute. Owned by Royce Jaime, Perfect Moon has been third in three consecutive starts for O'Neill.

In the Delta Jackpot over 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 5, he closed from fourth at the eighth pole to miss catching the winner, Mr. Jester, by a length. "At Delta, as soon as you turn for home, you're at the wire," O'Neill said. "It didn't fit his style."

O'Neill also trains Harvard Avenue, a closer who was a minor stakes winner at Emerald Downs last August. Last month, Harvard Avenue was fourth in the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields.

"He got a little wobbly legged in the last quarter-mile," O'Neill said. "He maybe a step or two behind Perfect Moon, but he's training well."

At this time of year, that is enough to justify taking a chance with a promising 3-year-old.