Can `Catomine' back up boast?

Trainer's `best ever' quote follows filly to Santa Anita

Horse Racing

April 08, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - Did he or didn't he? Did trainer Julio Canani say his filly, Sweet Catomine, was the best filly who ever lived - or didn't he?

Canani was asked after Sweet Catomine won the Santa Anita Oaks last month at Santa Anita Park how he felt. It was widely reported that he said: "She is the best filly that ever lived. She's going to prove it this year."

Now, as Sweet Catomine prepares to meet male horses for the first time tomorrow in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, Canani said that's not what he said. In fractured English, the 66-year-old native of Peru said he meant to say that Sweet Catomine is the best 3-year-old filly in the country.

A reporter who covered the race said Canani, when asked how he felt, gushed: "I feel like she's the best filly ever." Other reporters insist Canani said, with no apparent hedging, that Sweet Catomine is the best filly who ever lived.

The comment has taken on a life of its own. Santa Anita Park is using it to hype tomorrow's race. And students of racing history have taken offense.

Jockey Gary Stevens, who rode filly Winning Colors to victories in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, says he respects Sweet Catomine, but ...

"They're comparing her to the likes of Ruffian and Winning Colors and even Personal Ensign. I can go down the list ... Serena's Song," Stevens said. "She'd better do a lot more ... The filly she beat the other day, Memorette, is a decent kind of filly. But how far would Ruffian and Winning Colors have beaten her?

"Don't get me wrong. I'd love to be on [Sweet Catomine]. But with me, the jury's still out."

For the record, Sweet Catomine beat Memorette, a California-bred filly with two wins in nine starts, by three lengths in the Santa Anita Oaks. It was Sweet Catomine's fifth straight win after losing her 2-year-old debut in July at Del Mar. All her races have been against fillies. She will try to become the fourth filly to win the Santa Anita Derby, and if she wins, she will try to become the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby.

Despite the debate over Canani's comment, no doubt exists about Sweet Catomine's accomplishments so far. Her five victories have come in graded stakes, three of them Grade I's, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. That earned her an Eclipse Award as last year's outstanding 2-year-old filly.

Asked whether Sweet Catomine can beat the boys, trainer Bob Baffert, who for the first time in nine years doesn't have a horse in the Santa Anita Derby, said: "Definitely. She's that good."

Baffert said the attribute that distinguishes Sweet Catomine from other fast fillies is her size. She's bigger than most fillies and even many colts. She can handle the jostling in a roughly run race, Baffert said.

"Size does matter," he said. "When you see her up close, you say, `Wow.' "

Canani said that when he got Sweet Catomine from the farm last year she was chunky and awkward. Although she's still growing, he says, she's leaner.

Corey Nakatani, the jockey, chose to stick with Sweet Catomine, although he also had been riding Wilko, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Sweet Catomine is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the Santa Anita Derby. Wilko is the 9-2 third choice behind Don't Get Mad, who is 7-2.

Nakatani said size isn't the only attribute that can carry Sweet Catomine to victory against males. She is a daughter of Storm Cat, the highest priced stallion in the country, as well as the first foal produced by broodmare Sweet Life, whose father was the top sire Kris S.

"I think she's got the breeding to do it," Nakatani said. "She's got the frame to do it. Other fillies don't have that burliness about them. They can't take that getting bumped around and other horses leaning on you.

"And she's got the mind to do it. She has the mentality of a colt. A lot of fillies don't like to be in tight quarters. She'll bull through horses. There's really nothing that bothers her."

NOTE: Eight 3-year-olds entered the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes tomorrow at Aqueduct. Nick Zito-trained Bellamy Road is the 2-1 early favorite, and Going Wild, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, is 5-2. Other entrants are Survivalist (5-1), Galloping Grocer (6-1), Pavo (8-1), Naughty New Yorker (10-1), Byanosejoe (12-1) and Scrappy T (15-1).

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