06/15/2004 12:00AM

Allowance sprint has stakes quality


SAN MATEO, Calif. - It's not often that Bay Meadows offers a stakes-caliber race on a Thursday card.

Although Thursday's feature is an allowance race, a stakes couldn't have come up any tougher than the field of five older fillies and mares entered in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint.

Three of the five runners have won stakes this year, and the other two come into the race off victories in $50,000 optional claimers. Four of the runners, Christmas Time, Pheiffer, Channing Way, and Lucky Sabre are stakes winners. The fifth, Gyrene, now 5, ran second in her only two stakes tries as a 2-year-old.

Christmas Time is the likely favorite. She was sixth against males in the May 22 Saratoga Handicap here, but prior to that she won the Soviet Problem at Golden Gate Fields and the Woodside here.

Christmas Time breaks from the rail and will have to show her usual speed in what should be a competitive race from start to finish.

Pheiffer, who has tailed off since beating Christmas Time in the Feb. 14 Richmond Handicap, returns to sprinting at a distance where she's 3 for 3.

Although she should be part of the pace battle, Channing Way could be the one to beat. A nine-time stakes winner, Channing Way has won 12 of 24 starts and set the pace in the Woodside before being passed late.

The draw works in her favor here as she breaks from post 4 outside her two pace rivals. She has won both her starts at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Although based at Turf Paradise, she has run with the best in Southern California and dead-heated for third with graded stakes winner Bear Fan in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint in January.

Lucky Sabre snapped a 10-race losing streak in her last start but seems better around two turns.

Although she is the only runner who has not recorded a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90's, Gyrene could be a factor. She just won her first race over the Bay Meadows main track after running third in a pair of troubled trips.

She should be sitting fourth early and will be hoping for a strong pace duel to set things up for her stretch kick.

"This is no allowance race," Gyrene's trainer, John Anderson said. "We have to find out now or wait for the stakes in Vallejo to find out if she can run with these.

"I knew Channing Way was going to enter, and it didn't surprise me to see the others. I was hoping they'd write a race like this at Pleasanton, since we're based there, but they're not going to do it."