01/04/2007 1:00AM

Surplus of speed could help Dixie Meister


ARCADIA, Calif. - Preachinatthebar likes to race near the lead. Declan's Moon is coming out of two fast sprint races. Cheroot won his last start leading from start to finish. Spellbinder's last win came on the front end. And Buckland Manor prefers to press the pace. With all that potential speed in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita, the biggest beneficiary might be the horse who is in last place early on in the field of seven.

Dixie Meister, who rallied to win the Californian last summer at Hollywood Park, figures to get a setup in the San Pasqual. In addition, his form is disguised. He was placed in an impossible spot in his last start, his first race in five months. With that ambitious comeback out of the way, and a steady series of sharp works since, he figures to fire on Saturday.

"I hope so," his trainer, Julio Canani, said Thursday morning. "He's 100 percent for this race. He's doing good now."

After the Californian, Dixie Meister got an unexpected vacation. "At Del Mar, he didn't like the main track," Canani said. "He didn't gallop. I just jogged him. That track wasn't 100 percent. I didn't want to take any chances."

Dixie Meister did not return to the races until Nov. 25, when he was sent to New York to take on Discreet Cat in the Cigar Mile. He finished fourth of five, beaten 9 1/2 lengths.

"I knew he was going to finish fourth," Canani said. "He walked out of the gate. I'm not saying he would have been third, but he was going to finish three lengths closer."

Canani said that if Dixie Meister runs well Saturday, he would be off to Dubai.

"I'll be praying," he said, laughing.

Declan's Moon, the 2-year-old male champion of 2004, figures to be favored. Although he has lost his last three starts, he displayed high speed when finishing third in the Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park last time. He is unbeaten around two turns, and at Santa Anita.

Preachinatthebar is making his first start since finishing fourth behind Lava Man in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap. Two of his last four works have been the best of the morning at the distance.

"He runs his race every time," said his trainer, Bob Baffert. "The only thing I'm worried about is I backed off him after his last race and freshened him up. He might take a race or two to get going."

Cheroot, who comes off a win in the On Trust, may not run, trainer Darrell Vienna said. "I'm debating whether to wait for the Sunshine Millions," Vienna said of the Jan. 27 races.