03/25/2004 1:00AM

This time, Megahertz shouldn't fall short


ARCADIA, Calif. - The cream eventually rises to the top, but it may take a while Saturday at Santa Anita. Eight fillies and mares entered the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap, and wagering will focus on . Neither will set the pace; both are expected to be right there at the finish of the Santa Ana, a 1 1/8-mile turf race.

It was only one year ago when Noches De Rosa got loose and scored a 13-1 upset in the Santa Ana. Megahertz, the even-money favorite, finished three-quarters of a length back in third. On Saturday, Megahertz will be favored to avenge her defeat.

There is no reason she cannot succeed. Noches De Rosa has not raced since May; Fun House's best race was over a "good" turf course; Go on Baby and Sweetshew appear outclassed. That leaves Megahertz's stablemate Mandela as a potential upsetter, and Katdogawn as Megahertz's main rival.

Owned by Michael Bello and trained by Bobby Frankel, Megahertz has raced only twice since July, placing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and winning the Grade 2 San Gorgonio in her last start Jan. 10. Why the abbreviated campaign?

"Where else do I run her?" Frankel said. "I don't want to shorten her to a mile. I think she'll run a mile and a half."

She hasn't had to. Racing at distances between 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles, Megahertz has won graded stakes on turf courses at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar. The only change Saturday for Megahertz is that Victor Espinoza replaces Alex Solis, who is in Dubai.

Frankel also starts lightly raced Mandela, who won a two-other-than allowance in her March 4 comeback and attempts a difficult class leap Saturday into a Grade 2. Frankel does not perceive the jump to be that severe, pointing to her form overseas, where she finished third in a Group 1 and Group 2.

Javier Santiago rides Mandela, who gets a seven-pound weight break from Megahertz.

The second favorite is Katdogawn, whose runner-up finish behind Fun House last time was better than it looks. Katdogawn missed training before that race because of a minor sinus problem and did not care for the "good" turf course. Her running style is similar to that of Megahertz - both are finishers. So does pace even matter?

"If it's slow up front, she'll be closer," said Katdogawn's trainer, Jim Cassidy.

Cassidy is confident that Katdogawn will run her best race. The question is whether her best is good enough to defeat Megahertz. Mike Smith rides Katdogawn, who enters with five wins and earnings of $360,645.