10/04/2004 11:00PM

Is Carthage due for a bounce?

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Sometimes when a horse runs a race that is too good as far as handicappers are concerned, there's a call for caution the next time the horse runs.

Such may be the case Thursday when Carthage runs for trainer Art Sherman for the first time in the feature race at Bay Meadows, a $32,000 optional claimer at six furlongs.

Carthage ran a dull race here in June, earning only a 47 Beyer. He didn't run again until Sept. 1 at Del Mar when Sherman claimed him for $32,000. In the Sept. 1 race, he won by 5 1/2 lengths and recorded a career-best 104 Beyer.

Why the big turnaround? Carthage was gelded.

"I think they were surprised someone claimed him," Sherman said. "I claimed him because he had a lot of conditions for up here. He's got pedigree. He's not a ham-and-egger type. They spent $440,000 for him as a yearling."

The fact he had been gelded didn't bother Sherman.

"I was just looking for a conditioned horse, and he was a fresh horse," he said. "When I made the claim, I thought, 'What's the worse-case scenario?' and figured I'd run him back for $20,000 and wouldn't get hurt too bad."

Carthage's eye-popping performance had Sherman a little worried, but the 4-year-old has seemed fine since. He has had three half-mile works for Sherman, a brisk bullet drill followed by a pair of relatively sedate maintenance works.

"You always wonder when they win like that," Sherman said. "You're worried about running them back too quick, but he's done fine, and we've given him some time."

Carthage has met some good horses throughout his career, and the big Beyer improvement isn't new for him. He earned a 60 in his debut, then ran a 96 in his second start followed by a 98.

Despite that high Beyer, good speed, and a perfect outside draw, Carthage will have to do some running to win this race.

At a Boy Luther loves Bay Meadows, with 4 wins in 10 starts here, including a victory in Carthage's dull June race. He also beat Thursday rivals Geardown and Truckee River that day, and may be coming up to a good race with a pair of starts under his belt after a freshener.

Geardown is Mr. Consistency, hitting the board six straight times and now dropping back into a claimer. Truckee River seems evenly matched with Geardown as the two seem to take turns beating each other.

Double Digit comes west off a victory, while 3-year-old Silent Gold meets older for the first time.