11/02/2004 1:00AM

Best fit on conditions isn't best bet


SAN MATEO, Calif. - One important guide to handicapping races is to read the conditions of the race.

Thursday's Bay Meadows feature, like many races scheduled late in the year, requires handicappers to pay close attention to the fine print.

Sharp claimers stepping up in first-level allowance races often have an advantage over rivals who have been stuck in that condition for a number of races.

That's not really the case here, although Nose to It, a son of Grindstone who was a $150,000 purchase, has lost four times at the level since graduating in his debut. The rest of the field consists of multiple winners.

Always Remember is something of the poster child for finding the right conditions.

Eligibility for the race is for horses who have never won $7,500 other than maiden, claiming, or starter. Always Remember has exceeded that figure in each of his four victories, but those wins were in claiming races, so he's eligible here. He also earned $15,000 for finishing second in the Gold Rush Stakes as a 2-year-old, but the earnings did not come with a victory.

Although a good fit on race conditions, Always Remember might not be the one to back here, despite his two wins in his past three starts. He has been away since March 12, and, even though he has the highest earnings in the field with $97,645, he's never won at six furlongs and is meeting a group of runners with sharp current form.

The one to beat appears to be Fierce Knight, who drew the rail and is making his first start since being claimed for $40,000 when third as the odds-on choice at Del Mar.

Fierce Knight has decent speed and has worked regularly since trainer Paulo Lobo's claim. He ran twice in northern California at Golden Gate Fields under similar allowance conditions in the spring, finishing second both times.

Cahill Mango is another coming up from Southern California, and one who should be well placed early, making him a legitimate contender. He won a starter allowance race at Bay Meadows in the spring, then lost by a nose when favored at this level in his next start.

The X-factor in the field is the Argentine-bred Opening Act, who makes his U.S. debut. A 6-year-old horse, he has won six of 18 starts in his homeland, with eight seconds and three thirds.

His Argentine form suggests he has some speed. He has worked steadily and comes into the race with a bullet three-furlong gate drill.

Also worth considering, at least in exotics, is Rae's Totts, who recently scored a sharp starter allowance victory.