03/23/2004 1:00AM

Fade to Blue far from fading


ARCADIA, Calif. - Seven starts into his career, has emerged as a consistent allowance horse that bettors habitually overestimate - his odds have been 8-5 or less in his last six starts, including two wins.

Fifty-two starts into his career, Fade to Blue has reemerged as a salty veteran that upstarts often cannot handle.

has won three of his last five, and is the horse to beat in the seventh-race feature on Thursday at Santa Anita. Six older turf runners entered the two-other-than/optional $62,500 claiming race.

At 1 1/4 miles, the race is a mile longer in distance than the quarter-mile sprint that begins the card. Trainer Jerry Dutton holds the aces in race 1, a 2-year-old maiden race that is run through the stretch. Both halves of Dutton's entry, Semi Queen and Beer Stien, figure as solid contenders in the field of 10. Dutton typically cranks up his 2-year-olds early in the season. "I don't think it hurts them - it's just a good workout," he said.

Rents Due, also trained by Dutton, was the 2-1 program favorite Wednesday in a similar sprint, and Dutton said he has "quite a few ready to run, probably 12 to 14." Dutton owns half of both starters Thursday, and said that while Semi Queen might be better, Beer Stien is quicker. "They're both nice colts," he said. "I just want to get a race into them."

Few of the race 1 starters are expected to achieve the longevity of race 7 starter Fade to Blue. The 8-year-old California-bred has made 52 starts, won eight races, earned $398,198, and shed his reputation as an underachiever. After winning just five of his first 47, Fade to Blue has won three of his last five for trainer Jeff Mullins. In his most recent start March 13, Fade to Blue won a $40,000 claiming race at 1 1/2 miles.

Expectations have been high for Gassan Royal since his debut at odds of 3-1 in February 2003. He finished second, which set the tone for his career. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Gassan Royal has never finished worse than second. The 4-year-old son of Royal Academy finished second by a head to Fade to Blue on Jan. 3, and returned with an impressive one-other-than allowance win on Feb. 13.

Gassan Royal won by 2 1/2 lengths, and looked good doing it. On Thursday, he steps up a notch to the second allowance condition. The field includes the Paulo Lobo-trained Hatif; Commercant Vic, a troubled sixth last time out; and longshots Hecandigit and Brave Call.