02/06/2008 12:00AM

A Bit of Madness gets in gear again

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After A Bit of Madness overcame a terrible start to win a high-priced claiming race at Gulfstream and then was second behind the graded stakes winner Soldier's Dancer in a stakes at Tampa Bay Downs to open his 3-year-old campaign last year, trainer Kathleen O'Connell had every right to believe he was on his way to a big year. But those thoughts were immediately dashed after an ankle injury sidelined A Bit of Madness for nearly the remainder of the season.

A Bit of Madness returns to Gulfstream on Thursday hoping to repeat his big effort from last winter in a $44,500 optional claiming event carded at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The race drew a field of 14, all of whom will be able to compete after track management gave approval, beginning Thursday, to allow 14 starters in all races except those at five furlongs on the turf and 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

"I had half his summer mapped out after his big race at Tampa," said O'Connell. "Then we discovered he had suffered a small crack, basically a stress fracture, in his ankle."

O'Connell and A Bit of Madness's owner, Gilbert Campbell, gave the horse plenty of time to recuperate. A homebred son of West Acre, Bit of Madness did not return until the final week of the year, finishing seventh, but beaten less than four lengths, after contesting the pace in Calder's Pete Axthelm Stakes.

"I thought it was a monster effort the first time back, considering he broke from post 1 going 7 1/2 furlongs and wound up in a speed duel, which was the last thing I had envisioned," said O'Connell.

A Bit of Madness drew post 14 on Thursday, which could put him at an immediate disadvantage against a strong field that also includes Pass Play, Bullara, and Pick Six.

Pass Play, a 15-time winner, was hard-used on the lead before finishing fifth against similar optional claiming company here on Jan. 13. He was claimed out of that race for $62,500 by trainer Patrick Reynolds.

Bullara and Pick Six finished noses apart, a length in front of Pass Play, when they were second and third on Jan. 13. The outing was the first for the stakes-placed Bullara since late May. Pick Six continues to improve on the Beyer Speed Figure scale but like A Bit of Madness is poorly drawn for the race in post 13.