12/02/2009 1:00AM

Difficult half-dozen to decipher


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though it is the shortest field of the day, the $65,000 Chan Balum overnight stakes at six furlongs may be the toughest race to handicap on Aqueduct's Thursday program. The six 3-year-olds who entered are based in four different states, and their most recent races took place under vastly different conditions. From the rail out, we have:

* African King, who wired a starter handicap over a sloppy main track at the Big A's fall meet.

* Lobo Del Norte, a stretch-running winner of a second-level allowance at Philadelphia Park last time out for Ramon Preciado, who shipped in to win last week's Fall Highweight with longshot Cherokee Country.

* Brother Keith, making his first start for Mike Maker, and freshened since a troubled trip on soft turf at Saratoga behind Get Stormy, who has since won a pair of Grade 3 stakes.

* Big Push, trained by Fair Hill-based Steve Klesaris, whose last start was a pace duel in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park in September.

* Keechi Bullet, who takes a drop in class for Greg Sacco after failing to fire in the Grade 3 Perryville Stakes at Keeneland.

* And finally, the Mike Trombetta-trained Top Seed, a stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs last December who hasn't been out since an off-the-board finish in the Blue N Gold Stakes, a seven-furlong stakes around two turns at Charles Town back in April.

African King gets a class check, but may be this good in his current form. He has won 6 of 7 starts on dirt, and has produced a new Beyer top each and every time, climaxed by a 95 here last out.

Brother Keith began the season with three off-the-board finishes in graded stakes at Santa Anita on turf and Pro-Ride. He is 2 for 2 on fast dirt tracks, however, including an allowance score with a figure of 94 at Belmont two back.

Meanwhile, the one to catch and beat may be Big Push, who has only won on turf and synthetic surfaces to this point. He was against the grain of a strong closer's bias on Kentucky Cup Day, and has won previously when fresh.

A pace duel between African King and Big Push could favor Keechi Bullet, a 12-length allowance winner with a 96 Beyer the last time he raced on a fast dirt track.