03/11/2004 12:00AM

Hawthorne: Booster lone pace horse

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Saturday's featured three-other-than allowance at Hawthorne lacks a true pacesetter, but that may work to the benefit of Booster, who otherwise would appear to be in a very difficult spot. The race, which also has a $35,000 claiming option, is at a mile and 70 yards and is the eighth race on the 10-race card.

Booster makes a rare appearance outside the statebred ranks Saturday. His meet debut two weeks ago was his first attempt in open company since his 2-year-old campaign, and he responded to the challenge by holding third after rating in second most of the way. With that six-furlong prep behind him, Booster is in a position to take a step forward Saturday.

With more early speed than many of his rivals, Booster's best chance at victory would be to establish a clear lead and slow the early tempo. He was able to do just that two starts ago against Illinois-breds, but nothing short of a career-best performance will be needed to fend off all of his opponents.

Oza has also shown early speed in the past and has more back class than Booster. However, his form tailed off at the end of 2003, forcing then-trainer Wayne Catalano to part with him for $18,000. Oza's return to the $35,000 level first time off the claim by trainer Tom Dorris is perhaps a positive sign.

Behind Enemy Lines and Jimmy's Saber are hard to ignore, but may be at a disadvantage if the pace is too slow.