03/11/2005 12:00AM

Sweet Catomine's real test beyond Oaks

Sweet Catomine targets the Oaks at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Sweet Catomine ambled off the Santa Anita racetrack Friday morning looking like a filly without a care in the world. But how quickly things can change.

By the end of the weekend, Sweet Catomine may be carrying the entire 3-year-old division on her back. She runs Sunday in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, and if the race unfolds as designed, Sweet Catomine soon will embark on an enterprising campaign.

The plan to tackle colts in the Santa Anita Derby was considered even before Declan's Moon was injured, but his absence leaves a void, one that Sweet Catomine could fill. While trainer Julio Canani and owner-breeder Marty Wygod may prefer one-race-at-a-time testimony, this weekend that just won't do.

"After Sunday, we'll talk," said Canani, postponing the inevitable Santa Anita Derby discussion. "I'm playing it by ear. We play every race by ear."

He admits Sweet Catomine is intended for the Santa Anita Derby, pending the Oaks result. "Yes, you can put that."

It is curious to plan future races before a Grade 1 has been run, but even rival trainers admit the favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Oaks stands out.

"If Sweet Catomine runs her race, we're running for second," said trainer Doug O'Neill.

Actually, O'Neill is running for second and third, because he entered two - Cream Donut Keith and Guaranteed Victory.

Seven entered the Oaks. The other four are Memorette and Charming Colleen, the second- and third-place finishers from the Grade 1 Las Virgenes; She Sings, 10-length winner of the Arizona Oaks; and late-running sprinter Feel the Heat.

has won four straight since last summer, and will race for the first time since Jan. 16, when she won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at odds of 1-10. No apology is required, but in winning that race by 2 1/2 lengths, Sweet Catomine earned a Beyer Speed Figure of only 88.

"The weather was so bad and I never really worked her," Canani said. "I went easy with her because I knew the competition wasn't any good. You don't crank a horse up in January."

The Beyer par for the Oaks is 99, a figure Canani expects Sweet Catomine to match or exceed Sunday. A physically imposing filly, Sweet Catomine has matured over winter and enters March as a sleek, fit machine.

"She used to be chunky; now she looks like a racehorse," Canani said.

Beyond sheer ability, Sweet Catomine is unusually mild-mannered considering her pedigree. Offspring of Storm Cat tend to be nervous, high-strung, and easily agitated, but Sweet Catomine is none of the above.

"It's amazing the disposition she has," Canani said. "She has not had any setbacks, she's healthy, she's happy, and she's eating [well]."

All seven Oaks starters carry 121 pounds. Sweet Catomine drew the inside post under Corey Nakatani, and bettors will hammer her to odds somewhere around 1-5. In Canani's mind, "She may be 1-10, she's doing so good."

, 2 for 2 sprinting, enters as the interesting new shooter. In her first start for O'Neill on Feb. 3, she blitzed allowance fillies by five lengths while earning a 94 Beyer. But can she run long? O'Neill hopes strong gallops have increased her stamina.

"She's so naturally gifted we're trying to get her to carry her speed," he said. "If we didn't win, and ran second or third, I think it would be good for her first route."

finished six lengths clear of third when she ran second to Sharp Lisa on Feb. 12 in the Las Virgenes, but her unbalanced running style (slow early, fast late) suggests she may be best suited to sprints. Memorette has won 2 of 8.

The field

Santa Anita Oaks
Purse: $300,000; Grade 1; 1 1/16 miles

1Sweet CatomineC. Nakatani2-5
2Memorette K. Desormeaux5-1
3She Sings J. Court20-1
4Feel the HeatA. Solis20-1
5Guaranteed Victory R. Douglas20-1
6Charming Colleen P. Valenzuela10-1
7Cream Donut Keith T. Baze4-1

* All carry 121 pounds
* Odds by Art Gropper