09/21/2004 12:00AM

Alumni Hall drops in class

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ELMONT, N.Y. - After tussling with Grade 1 winners in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup last month, Alumni Hall finds himself faced with an easier assignment on Thursday at Belmont Park.

Alumni Hall and Colita look like the horses to beat in an optional claimer that drew a solid field of eight older males. None of the horses are entered for the $100,000 claiming price.

, a 5-year-old with only six starts, entered the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap off three consecutive wins, including the Black Tie Affair at Arlington Park. The Saratoga Breeders' Cup was the sternest test of his career, and he finished fourth, beaten 10 lengths by the winner, Evening Attire, and five lengths by the runner-up, Funny Cide.

"I thought he ran okay; it was his first step up with those horses," said Neil Howard, Alumni Hall's trainer. "It's been a long road with this horse, and we have been conservative with him. He was a late-comer, with a lot of issues."

Howard nominated Alumni Hall to the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 2, although he didn't think he would run there. He mentioned the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 8 as a possible target.

Robby Albarado rides Alumni Hall from post 5 in Thursday's 1 1/16-mile dirt race.

, who is 3 for 3 at Belmont, has a win and a second in two starts this year. In July, after an eight-month layoff, Colita finished in a dead heat for the win with Pretty Wild in an allowance race. In his last start, at Saratoga on July 28, Colita ran second to Powerful Touch, who came back to win his third race in a row on Sept. 6.

John Velazquez rides Colita from the rail.

, the runner-up to the Howard-trained Mineshaft in last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup, makes his first start since November and could be a threat to the top two.

In his last start, Quest finished second in the Grade 2 Clark at Churchill Downs behind Evening Attire, who was disqualified for interfering with Quest. Nick Zito, who is adept at getting a horse ready off of works, has been training Quest over the deep Oklahoma training track at Saratoga.

has done his best work sprinting, but he can't be discounted because his trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., is on a hot streak. Dutrow has 6 winners from 14 starters during the first eight days of the meet.

hasn't showed the same spark in his two starts this year that he demonstrated in the last two years.