02/18/2006 12:00AM

Surf Cat rallies to win San Carlos


ARCADIA, Calif. - All Surf Cat needed midway through Saturday's $150,000 at Santa Anita was a wake-up call.

Running in sixth with three furlongs remaining in the seven-furlong sprint, Surf Cat rallied quickly when challenged by fellow closer Imperialism and roared home with a wide kick to win by 2 1-4 lengths.

"It woke him up," trainer Bruce Headley said of the challenge. "He took off."

Surf Cat was timed in 1:22.09, easily beating Major Success, who won the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap in June. Oceanus, a 37-1 outside, rallied from last in the field of eight to finish third, a nose in front of Jet West. Imperialism finished sixth.

Surf Cat was ridden by Alex Solis, who was perfect with four mounts on Saturday's 10-race program.

The victory confirmed Surf Cat's status as a 4-year-old to watch this year - in sprints or routes.

"He's very versatile. He can sprint and go a mile and a quarter," Headley said.

Headley said he was not concerned that Surf Cat was sixth on the turn. In sprints last year, Surf Cat rallied from well off the pace to win.

"The way Alex was sitting, it looked pretty good," Headley said.

Brand Name, a 40-1 outsider, and Major Success set the early pace of 22.63 and 45.33 seconds. Brand Name faded in early stretch, leaving Major Success in front by 1 1-2 lengths with a furlong remaining.

Major Success could not hold the lead. Solis had Surf Cat moving impressive through the stretch and took control in the final sixteenth.

Owned by Headley's wife, Aase, and Marsha Naify, Surf Cat has won 5 of 9 starts and $412,420. Last year, Surf Cat won the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1-8 miles at Hollywood Park in July.

He was an intended runner in the Malibu Stakes here on Dec. 26 until he grabbed a quarter last fall and was taken out of training, an accident that Headley suspects happened in the stall.

"I think he matured quite a bit mentally," he said. "I wanted to run in the Strub series, but fate wouldn't have it that way."

Saturday's San Carlos was a fitting substitute, and an excellent start to a new season.