02/01/2005 12:00AM

Fusaichi's absence opens door

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The absence of Fusaichi Samurai in a 3-year-old allowance route Thursday at Santa Anita has created an opportunity for seven others to emerge from relative obscurity.

will try to stretch his speed one mile in the entry-level allowance, and if he is able to stay the distance, the race could be a formality. A half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, So Long Birdie has a significant Beyer Speed Figure advantage over Megabyte, Yes He's a Pistol, and the four others entered.

Beyond being the fastest horse, So Long Birdie benefits from modest competition that does not include the colt once considered the hottest Derby prospect in California. Fusaichi Samurai's smashing debut victory Dec. 11 led many to believe this $4.5 million colt was the division leader. Thursday's race appears to be an appropriate spot for his 3-year-old debut.

But nearly two months have passed since the Dec. 11 race, Fusaichi Samurai has not breezed since Jan. 21, and trainer Neil Drysdale was noncommittal Tuesday when asked about the colt's status. Drysdale said he would provide a definitive answer later this week.

Meanwhile, trainer Craig Dollase is wondering how far So Long Birdie will run. "We need to get a two-turn race in him to tell us where we're at," Dollase said. "Going two turns is going open up some avenues. We are optimistic."

They also are "out." So Long Birdie was claimed for $40,000 out of his May 26 debut, when he was beaten by 14 lengths. Seven months later, So Long Birdie resurfaced in a maiden special weight, which he won by 11 lengths with a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. He improved Jan. 17 when he lost by a nose in the $104,000 San Miguel at six furlongs, earning a 98.

"It might have been a blessing in disguise getting beat a nose, because now we still have that [allowance] eligibility," Dollase said.

So Long Birdie is wheeling back quickly, and Dollase recognizes the gamble. "We're coming back in 17 days, but he bounced out of the race really well and this is an opportunity to get two turns under his belt," he said.

So Long Birdie's main rival - - has had five weeks between starts and has a two-turn race under his belt. Megabyte has won 1 of 6 starts. The outsiders in the field are Hesabully, Go Coyote Joe, Jolly Mon, and Zats It.