01/23/2007 12:00AM

Cast of 8 tough to separate


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bettors clever enough to find the winner of the seventh-race feature on Thursday at Santa Anita will be paid generous odds.

A diverse field of eight older horses entered the third-level optional $80,000 claiming race at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, and a case can be made for every one.

Worchester and Didn't We are European imports making their U.S. debuts; Bedlam Bertie and I'll Prey for You shorten up after fading in fast-pace routes; two-turn specialist Salty Humor is likely prepping; Cat and a Half drops after a runner-up finish in a stakes; Billy's Echo moves up in class after a 31-1 upset in a $50,000 claimer.

All of them are qualified to win, but so is Pure American, a former $16,000 claimer returning to California after a troubled runner-up finish Jan. 6 in a stakes race at Turf Paradise. Pure American broke last of 10, was briefly trapped behind horses on the turn, then surged late and made up nearly five lengths in the stretch.

It was the first race for Pure American since a runner-up finish Nov. 18 at Hollywood Park. In that race, Pure American finished a head behind I'll Prey for You, who will be one of the favorites Thursday. Pure American switches to a stronger rider Thursday in David Cohen. With a clean start, he can spring an upset.

I'll Prey for You goes route to sprint after pressing the pace and fading in a third-level allowance. Bedlam Bertie also cuts back in distance after a seventh-place finish in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort on Dec. 26.

I'll Prey for You and Bedlam Bertie both are quick enough to contest the pace, but Euro import Didn't We was a front-runner in England and could impact the pace scenario. After winning 3 of 16, Didn't We was purchased at auction for approximately $70,000 and makes his U.S. debut.

Worchester was an allowance-caliber sprinter in France, and he is making his first U.S. start for trainer Bobby Frankel. The only apparent flaw is that Worchester has been training all winter at Santa Anita; Frankel keeps his main string at Hollywood. Worchester has won 3 of 11.

Billy's Echo, 9, is the only entrant with a win on the downhill course. He won a $50,000 claiming race Dec. 28.