05/08/2007 12:00AM

Hither Lane drops from graded stakes

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Five of the seven older sprinters in Thursday's eighth race have graded stakes experience. The two most interesting entrants in the $49,000 optional claimer with third-level conditions are Hither Lane and Council Member, who spent the winter at Payson Park but come from very different backgrounds.

Hither Lane is the probable favorite because he is fast and always runs his race. He won or placed in his first six starts, a streak of exacta finishes that ended in his only start this year, a fourth in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Handicap behind Kelly's Landing, subsequent winner of the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Council Member spent the winter in Dubai with the rest of the Godolphin Stable, but hasn't run since a runner-up finish on Lingfield's Polytrack last October, which was his first start in over a year.

"He had fetlock surgery that was relatively minor, but then he colicked and had surgery for that - that's what knocked him out," said Rick Mettee, who is overseeing the Godolphin string.

Though Council Member has been inactive, he was good enough to win a listed stakes against Aragorn (a five-time winner at the Grade 1 and Grade 2 level in the U.S.), and fast enough to win another listed stakes, going seven furlongs in 1:21.20.

"An allowance race last week as a prep for the Jaipur [May 27] didn't go, so our options were to run long on grass or sprint on dirt," said Mettee. "My initial feeling is that real good dirt sprinters may run away from him a little bit. But he's dead fit, and there comes a time where you've just got to run them."

Kazoo, who forced a blistering pace in the recent Carter to help set the table for his stretch-running stablemate Silver Wagon, looms the speed of the speed as he looks for his first win since the 2006 Toboggan 14 months ago.

Kazoo, 9, is in for the $75,000 claim price, as are Sinkwich, who ran big at Belmont on several occasions last year, and Lucky Gamble, whose Beyer Speed Figures have been 90 or better in 6 of 7 starts since he was claimed last June.

A fast pace is likely, because Graynumberfive and Lifestyle also possess early speed. Graynumberfive has four wire-to-wire wins in his last seven starts. Lifestyle cut very fast fractions in a turf dash at Gulfstream.