01/14/2004 12:00AM

Claimers have class in feature

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Claiming horses are viewed by some horseplayers as being outclassed when matched against allowance runners. In Friday's $32,000 ninth race at Fair Grounds, four claimers may prove their doubters wrong.

The ninth race, an optional claiming race at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, offers an even balance of four two-other-than allowance horses and four horses running for a $40,000 tag.

While the numbers are even, this matchup favors the claiming horses. Many of the claimers cleared their two-other-than allowance condition long ago and are only claimers at this point in their careers because they are ineligible for most allowances.

G. W.'s Deputy, a 6-year-old French Deputy gelding owned by Glen Warren, won a four-other-than allowance at Fair Grounds a little less than a year ago. Since that time, he has campaigned primarily in money allowances and optional claiming races.

Two starts ago on Dec. 19, he finished second, beaten a nose, in an optional $40,000 claiming race, a race similar to Friday's. He was less effective in an optional $62,500 claiming race on Jan. 5 that was moved from turf to dirt.

He has won three of five races on the Fair Grounds turf course. Trainer Andy Leggio has given the mount to regular rider E.J. Perrodin.

Grifter, one of the three other claimers, also shares a love of the local grass course. A winner of two of three races at Fair Grounds on grass, he comes off a runaway four-length victory in a $25,000 claiming race Dec. 11. That race, his first turf sprint since August 2002, resulted in an 89 Beyer Speed Figure. Lonnie Meche rides Grifter on Friday.

The strongest allowance horses in this turf race appear to be Justalittlemagic and South Christian, recent entry-level allowance winners. Justalittlemagic won a one-other-than allowance in his ninth attempt at the condition, winning by a half-length on Dec. 28. His two victories have come running 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Fair Grounds.

South Christian has been shipped to Fair Grounds from Oaklawn Park, where he recorded a Jan. 10 workout. His last race came Nov. 30 on dirt at Turfway Park.

Some of South Christian's best races have been on grass. He won his maiden on turf at Ellis Park in August, one race after finishing second on grass to eventual Kentucky Cup Turf Dash winner Fredericktown.

Noon Affair and High Cascade, two horses running under the claiming conditions, and allowance entrants Rapadash and Bondsman complete the field. Noon Affair and Bondsman figure to benefit if rain - which is forecast for Friday - causes the race to be taken off the turf.