03/04/2004 1:00AM

Watch 'Dragon' flying home late


NEW YORK - Okay, maybe it's not on the order of Kentucky Derby Day, or Breeders' Cup Day. But Saturday is Big Cap Day, and for racing fans in Southern California, the day of the Big Cap, which is officially known as the Santa Anita Handicap, is very big, much like Travers Day at Saratoga, and Arlington Million Day at Arlington Park.

The Grade 1, $1 million Big Cap, which has a strong-looking favorite in Pleasantly Perfect, tops a fine card at Santa Anita that also includes two other stakes - the $350,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf, and the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes, a stepping-stone to next month's Santa Anita Derby. Both are Grade 2 events.

Gulfstream Park's biggest day of the year comes next Saturday, which is Florida Derby Day. However, Gulfstream has a pretty solid stakes doubleheader this Saturday, with the Bonnie Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap for sprinters. Each race is a Grade 2 and worth $200,000.

The only other stakes with a six-figure purse Saturday is the $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, the filly counterpart to the richest race of the year in New Orleans, Sunday's $600,000 Louisiana Derby.

Here are my three spotlight stakes:

Frank E. Kilroe Mile

Given how wide open this race is, there is no reason to take anything at low odds. In fact, I'm going with a horse who figures to be one of the biggest prices on the board, Golden Dragon.

Both of Golden Dragon's victories in this country came at this mile distance over this course, including an impressive allowance score in his last start. Golden Dragon smoked his last half-mile in around 45.40 seconds, and flew his last quarter-mile in approximately 22.80. And, while Golden Dragon is admittedly taking a substantial class jump on paper, the 101 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in that recent win is right in the ballpark with what everyone else in the field has been getting lately.

Moreover, the fast but faint-hearted Rock N Rosh should do a lot of damage on the front end, compromising the chances of such pace players as Apache Wings, Buckland Manor, and Geronimo, and set up this race for a closer from downtown who can really finish fast, like Golden Dragon.

San Rafael

This is another race that figures to have a destructive pace battle, what with the rapid stretch-out sprinter Hosco, and the speedy Lion Heart breaking from adjacent stalls, and the fresh speedball Hasslefree coming out of the two hole with a relatively short run to the first turn. So, I will resist the temptation to get fancy, and pick the obvious closer, Imperialism.

I call Imperialism obvious because he came from way back to win the San Vicente in his last start, was previously effective going two turns in Florida, and sports the best last-race Beyer in the field, a 101. Yet, he still may be a square price since he was 14-1 when he won the San Vicente, and is in with additional "name" horses here.

I also respect Lucky Pulpit in this spot. Lucky Pulpit finished second last time out in the Santa Catalina to St Averil, who has plenty of backers in the Kentucky Derby Future Book. But, Lucky Pulpit ran every bit as well as St Averil after contesting a strong pace three wide, and the form of that race has since been flattered when third-place finisher Master David came back to win the Sham Stakes.

Stymie Handicap

In contrast to the two spotlight races I like the most, this event is almost totally lacking early speed. Because of that, this is a good spot for one-time front-runner Classic Endeavor to return to winning form.

Classic Endeavor showed an interesting change of running style in his last two races, coming from way back two starts ago to be second, and then showing some of his old early foot when fourth last time out. Only last year, Classic Endeavor would have had no trouble getting the jump early on this group, and leading them a merry chase. The improved speed he showed recently is taken as an indication he has some of his early zip back, and is sitting on a peak effort.