04/18/2006 12:00AM

Despite flaws, Charming Kid looks best

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Charming Kid should have every chance to run down fading pace horses and win the featured eighth race on Thursday night at Lone Star Park.

But can take advantage of a potentially excellent race setup? Charming Kid is winless in nine starts dating back to last July, and just 2 for 13 lifetime. That win total is what allows him into the Thursday feature, a second-level allowance at 7 1/2 furlongs on turf, but it is also what might make handicappers wary of firing heavily on Charming Kid, even if he does look like the best horse in a race that sets up for him.

In all there were just seven entered in the race, and they are not an outstanding group for the class level. But there are some decent grass horses here, and there appears to be ample pace. For speed, start from the inside gate, which will house the 5-year-old gelding . Big Matt's first 23 races came on dirt, but his most recent was on turf, and he won an entry-level Sam Houston allowance race by almost two lengths. No doubt, Big Matt appreciated the surface switch, but at least as important was a dawdling 51-second pace to the half-mile marker. Big Matt was loose and lonely out there, and he had plenty left for the stretch run in that 1 1/8-mile race.

Thursday night, there are other pace players to push him, especially , who was on or near the lead in four recent sprint starts at the Oaklawn Park meet. But Leon's Best, like Big Matt, is 1 for 1 on turf, having captured an entry-level allowance on this very course, at this very distance, on this very date in 2005. Leon's Best, however, also benefited from dawdling early fractions in that victory, and besides Big Matt, there are pace pressers Waco Fun and P F Don D.

All of which should grease the path for Charming Kid, trained by Wes Hawley. Charming Kid last was seen in mid-January finishing fifth in a full field at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, but that grass race was much stronger and deeper than Thursday's. In fact, Charming Kid consistently has faced tougher opposition than he meets in this spot, and leading rider Cliff Berry should have an excellent chance to pick up another winner. Bettors will have to live with a short price and hope that Charming Kid chooses this night for a breakthrough performance.