11/15/2005 12:00AM

'Lacey' lone standout on tough card

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ALBANY, Calif. - What Thursday's Golden Gate Fields card lacks in glamour, it makes up in good betting opportunities.

The two best races on the eight-race card are a maiden $25,000 claimer for 2-year-old fillies and a $16,000 claimer on the turf for 3-year-olds, but there is depth in all the day's races.

The maiden claimer seems perhaps the day's only race with a true standout in , who has shown improvement in each of her three starts.

She was third for a $32,000 tag in her second career start and ran second for $20,000 last out. She seems a solid favorite for trainer William E. Morey, but first-timer Messner Mine from the Lloyd Mason barn could merit a look.

has worked well, with a bullet five-furlong drill at Pleasanton followed by a solid work at Thursday's six-furlong distance over the Golden Gate Fields track.

The turf claimer, at 1 1/16 miles, drew a full field. Only two of the runners - , a Florida import, and A.P. Dixie, who is on the also-eligible list - have recorded turf victories.

Included in the field is Thunderese, who comes off a $254.20 upset maiden victory.

Though probably not one of the primary contenders, his strong win last time proves that lightly raced horses can make amazing improvements virtually overnight.

The likely favorite in the race could be Bear Cub, just claimed for $25,000 by Morey. He was third in a competitive turf race, making a strong three-wide move on the turn before flattening out just a bit late. He has a pair of five-furlong works since the Oct. 22 claim.

Most handicappers don't like to see a recently claimed horse return at a lower price tag. Morey, who wins one-third of the time off the claim, is one of a new breed of aggressive trainers who don't mind dropping horses in order to win. And even if is claimed Thursday, the claiming price combined with the winner's share of the purse would result in a profit.

Bears Mo Red has begun to climb the claiming ladder again after being dropped to the $6,250 level and winning two back. He stepped up off a six-week freshener and ran third to a talented runner, and steps up again here.

Chapel Ridge could be the one to beat despite a six-week layoff. He won at this claiming level two back, but faded badly when boosted to the allowance level for a turf start last time.

Thursday's drop and a series of good works should make him a legitimate contender.