01/21/2003 1:00AM

Almuhathir seeks fourth straight win


NEW ORLEANS - Three in a row isn't bad for a castoff. Thursday in the Fair Grounds featured ninth race, Almuhathir will try to make it four.

Almuhathir is the property of the Shadwell Farm of Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, one of the ruling family of Dubai. Shadwell is located outside Lexington, Ky., but Shadwell's cream of the crop generally races in Dubai and Europe.

The best of Shadwell's American racehorses often end up in California with trainer Neil Drysdale, which is where Almuhathir started his career in 2001. But after losing his first four starts there Almuhathir got another demotion, this time going to trainer Danny Peitz in New York.

Peitz has done good work with this type of horse before, and now he has done it again. Almuhathir lost a comeback race in June, then lost again in September, but since Oct. 26 has run off three straight wins, a maiden and two allowance conditions. Thursday, he moves up to the third allowance level in a turf race at about one mile.

"I actually had him down at Fair Grounds last season," Peitz said. "When I got him going the right way, I was like, 'This horse is okay.' He has been a little bit of a pleasant surprise."

A horse that slices through allowance conditions the way Almuhathir has must improve with each start: this horse has, but to beat the best field he's ever faced Almuhathir must improve again. Besides four opponents entered under the race's allowance conditions, four more went in for the optional $75,000 claiming price.

"I hope he's worth more than $75,000, because that's what they're all in for," Peitz said. "I figured it would be tough - a bunch of hard-knocking horses that have run out of conditions."

As for Almuhathir's chief rivals, take your pick. Holy Conflict has himself won two in a row - and looked good doing it - and because trainer Gene Cilio entered him for the claiming tag, Holy Conflict actually moves down in class Thursday.

Just Like Jimmy hasn't raced since Sept. 8, but has been working long and strong. Just Like Jimmy takes his first dip into the claiming ranks. Last season he raced competitively with stakes-quality horses like Northcote Road, Mystery Giver, Candid Glen, and Even the Score.

Other possibilities are Runaway Choice, probably the controlling speed, and Whitton Court. If wet conditions move the race to dirt, Valid Prime may be the horse to beat.

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