04/01/2003 12:00AM

Circle of Life a challenge for bettors

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ALBANY, Calif. - Thursday's feature race at Bay Meadows presents a typical handicapping challenge but with a twist.

A talented maiden graduate is facing winners for the first time. The maiden winner is clearly talented but so are the rivals.

Cycle of Life is the maiden winner venturing into the world of winners in Thursday's $50,000 optional claimer at one mile on the turf. Four of her five rivals have already beaten winners, and two of them won their only turf starts.

Cycle of Life, with one win in nine starts and a third in her career, could not warm up her rivals on dirt, but on turf it's a different story. In two turf starts, she finished third (to a filly who won a stakes race in her next start) and first.

Her two turf Beyers are 11 and 13 points higher than her best Beyer on the dirt. Sired by Breeders' Cup winner Spinning World out of a Mr. Prospector filly, Cycle of Life has a Tomlinson rating for turf breeding that is the highest in the field.

All in all, that presents handicappers with an interesting set of facts to challenge their skills.

But what about that twist?

Cycle of Life is not only meeting winners for the first time but also meeting colts for the first time.

What does that do to the handicappers' calculations?

First of all, it probably assures a healthy price on Cycle of Life, but that's nothing new. Since being claimed for $12,500 by trainer Frances Henderson in her second start, she has had double-digit odds, including for her turf starts. She was 51-1 when she ran third behind Maddie's Charm and 11-1 in her victory.

She's shown a nice stalking style in her two grass tries at Golden Gate Fields, but like all her rivals she now has to adapt to the Longden Turf Course.

She should be a contender even against the boys, but Allwood, the lone entrant with three victories, looms the one to beat. He's also the only entrant running for a tag.

Although he finished last in the El Camino Real Derby, he enters Thursday's race with the highest-Beyer turf victory in the field in his previous start. Although he has the lowest turf Tomlinson rating, he won gamely, catching favored Direct Male at the wire by a nose.

Frisco Johnny, who defeated Direct Male by 1 1/2 lengths for his maiden victory, and Rapier Dance, a troubled fourth behind stablemate Allwood in his turf debut, are the others with turf experience.