03/08/2005 12:00AM

Claimers who know how to win

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - They are consistent veterans, no longer the stars but popular nonetheless because they have been through the wars and still give their best.

Thursday's fourth race at Bay Meadows is for $12,500 claimers at six furlongs, and the six sprinters have a combined 40 victories, 47 seconds and 18 thirds, and have earned more than $800,000.

The 7-year-old Texas Chili fits nicely at this level. He won for a $16,000 tag two back and missed by less than a length for $20,000 in his last start.

The competition can be almost as tough for $12,500 as it is for $16,000 or $20,000, so current form becomes a key in these mid-level claiming races rather than the fact a horse may be moving up or down the perceived class ladder.

won the Sam Whiting Handicap at Pleasanton in 2003. He has earned $259,185 with 8 wins in 26 career starts.

"He would have won a lot more if they ran 6 1/2 [furlong] races in northern California," said Bill Morey, Texas Chili's owner, breeder, and trainer.

Morey said the drop in claiming price doesn't mean Texas Chili is any more for sale in this race than his previous two.

"When he's ready to run, and there's a race available, he runs," Morey said.

Trainer Andy Mathis has similar feelings about spotting At a Boy Luther, who returned from a four-month layoff to finish fifth in a $20,000 claimer on Jan. 28.

"Whether you're at Santa Anita or here, you could run in a $12,500 and it might be tougher than a $20,000," Mathis said. "I don't know if $12,500 is the right level or $10,000 or $16,000.

"We want to give him some confidence. When he's good to go, he gives us a decent work to show he's ready."

With three works since his last start, At a Boy Luther is ready, but, like Texas Chili, he will need a contested pace to have his best chance.

The nominal feature comes one race earlier with 3-year-old fillies going one mile in a $40,000 starter allowance race.

Thrilling Victory, with a win and a second in her two career starts, may have a bright future as she tries two turns for the first time. Phenomanal Star seems to have some talent, and Brite Luci comes off a much-improved effort as she won her maiden in her 12th career start.