01/14/2005 1:00AM

Sweet Catomine in season bow

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Benoit & Associates
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine, Jose Dominguez aboard, works five furlongs in a bullet 59.80 seconds earlier this month.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Sweet Catomine used to be a secret. That was before she burst onto the scene with three increasingly impressive stakes wins that culminated with a crushing triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Having completely blown her cover, Sweet Catomine returns Sunday at Santa Anita as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes. Her reputation is as big as the racetrack.

"Is that bad?" trainer Julio Canani said, smiling.

It is bad only for the five fillies who face Sweet Catomine in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel. They include entrymate Revealed, allowance-caliber On London Time, Island Escape, Andrea's Wish, and Pussycat Doll. It appears they are all running for second money.

"Sweet Catomine is probably unbeatable, but running second to her is not going to hurt," said trainer Bob Baffert, who supplemented Pussycat Doll to the race for $2,000.

The Santa Ysabel was scheduled for last Sunday, but the card was scrapped after the first race because of unsafe track conditions. In the one-week interim, Sweet Catomine has trained like a filly that can pick up where she left off. She runs Sunday for the first time since Oct. 30, and the 2 1/2-month break has done her some good.

"Horses should go forward, she's growing, and she's more mature," Canani said. And she is still awfully fast. She worked three furlongs Thursday in 35 seconds, and earned the bullet for a 59.80 workout on Jan. 1.

developed quickly last summer, even while a stablemate, the 2-year-old filly Proposed, was all the rage for owner-breeder Marty Wygod. Proposed finished a solid third in her career debut in a stakes, and was aiming for the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. But even then, Wygod and Canani sensed that Proposed was not the only stakes-caliber filly in the barn.

"I thought [Sweet Catomine] was going to be a distance filly, but she worked super," Canani said. Sweet Catomine finished third in her debut at Del Mar, and was slated for a one-mile maiden race at the end of the meet. But when Canani saw one of the Debutante favorites from another barn work poorly, he shifted gears.

"I didn't like the work, so I changed my mind," Canani said. "I said, 'Let's go. I want to run both.' "

Proposed, the more highly regarded of the entry, pressed the pace in the the seven-furlong Debutante, but chipped a knee and faltered. Sweet Catomine rallied from last to win going away.

As predicted, Sweet Catomine improved running long and scored a four-length win in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf, followed by a 3 3/4-length win in the Breeders' Cup. Her final time was .44 seconds faster than colts ran in the Juvenile. Nearly 2 1/2 months later, many in Southern California consider Sweet Catomine the circuit's best 3-year-old, regardless of gender.

"I don't want to do anything crazy," Canani cautions when asked about running against colts. Still, he is aware that Wygod may have loftier ambitions. "Every owner dreams," Canani said.

Wygod entered two fillies in the Santa Ysabel (John Shirreffs trains Revealed). Canani said Wygod is vacationing in Mexico and is not expected to attend the 2005 debut of Sweet Catomine.

The Santa Ysabel goes as race 3 on a card that includes the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies.