03/09/2004 1:00AM

Gill's checkbook gets heavy workout


NEW ORLEANS - Perhaps the best bet on Fair Grounds's 11-race Thursday card is that the owner Mike Gill will claim something. A close second choice is the proposition that he will spend a significant amount of money in so doing.

During the last month, Gill has done more claiming at Fair Grounds than running. He and trainer Gammie Vazquez have one horse entered Thursday, and even if someone reaches in and takes Show Falcon for $15,000 out of the program's finale, the barn may end the day with a net gain in population. The Thursday feature, at about 1 1/16 miles on grass, is open to second-level allowance horses or $40,000 claimers. Though only two of the 10 entered start for a claiming tag, one could wind up in a new home late Thursday afternoon.

Including Monday, Feb. 9, the day he claimed four horses, Gill has made 21 claims on the last 21 racing programs here. Total cost: $688,500. That's about $32,785 per claim, putting the Thursday feature squarely in range. Gill's recent claims have been of the high-end variety. Monday, he took Read Me My Rights for $62,500, the same price he paid for Bay Eagle last Saturday.

On Feb. 9, when the claiming spree began, Vazquez said Gill had 12 empty stalls in the Fair Grounds barn he leases from Louis Roussel. Since then, 17 horses have been claimed. Vazquez also said at the time that Gill was claiming to run at this meet, and indeed, the barn has started 17 horses in the last 20 racing days, winning three times with six seconds.

If nothing else, Gill's increased presence in the late stages of the Fair Grounds meet has shaken up the way more cautious outfits are entering. Other horsemen have welcomed the opportunity to turn over stock at what they figure are fair prices.

One of the two $40,000 claimers in Thursday's feature, , has a solid chance to win. A winner in 2 of 3 starts this winter, she was claimed for $25,000 from her last start by owner Ro Parra and trainer Steve Asmussen.

But the most likely winner of Thursday's feature is , a filly neither Gill nor anyone else can touch via the claiming system. Witch Approval, lightly raced with just five starts at age 4, won an off-the-turf entry-level allowance race in her last start, but it was her previous two efforts, both on the grass, that showcased this filly's talent. Witch Approval, from the Danny Peitz barn, has a big late kick on turf, and with a decent setup and racing luck, she can mow down her rivals.