05/24/2005 12:00AM

How Bout Jose hard to gauge off long layoff


ALBANY, Calif. - There are always questions when a horse comes back from a long layoff.

Handicappers will have to decide whether to back How Bout Jose, who will make his first start since Jan. 1, 2004, on Thursday's program at Golden Gate Fields. He has six rivals in a $40,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles.

This is not the first time How Bout Jose has spent more than a year on the sidelines. He was off from May 24, 2002, until June 7, 2003.

It took him a couple races to hit peak form after that layoff, although he was overmatched in his first start, a Grade 3 sprint, which was followed by another stakes try.

Although won 6 of 17 starts and hit the board 14 times, he is, at best, an allowance type or high-level claimer. He seems to be spotted nicely, at the level where he was claimed by trainer Brian Koriner on Oct. 29, 2003.

Koriner, frankly, isn't sure what to expect.

"He's worked very well for this," said Koriner. The trainer has not missed a work with the 8-year-old How Bout Jose, who has a pair of six-furlong bullets listed among his drills.

How Bout Jose did win his career debut in 2001, so he has fired fresh.

This is a tough spot, however. Though a case can be made that he's the best horse in the field, How Bout Jose probably will need at least one race under his belt to do his best.

, the horse How Bout Jose beat the day Koriner claimed him, is also coming back, albeit from a four-month rest since he ran second to Dessert Boom after encountering trouble at the start. A stalker, Snoopy Cat has a steady series of drills over the track, firing bullets in his final two works.

Snoopy Cat has a stablemate in the race, , who has won 3 of 4 starts this year by a combined 28 1/2 lengths. He's stepping up from $6,250 starter allowance races after taking a huge drop in class earlier this year. He has won at this level in the past and can't be ignored on the front end.

, dropping a notch, is 2 for 2 here, having won both his starts at last year's fall-winter meeting.