04/07/2003 11:00PM

Likely winner, lousy price

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ARCADIA, Calif. - So Urgent is the lone speed in the seventh-race feature Thursday at Santa Anita. Problem is, everyone knows it. A field of five entered the 6 1/2-furlong sprint, a three-other-than optional $100,000 claimer that will have chalk bettors licking their chops.

Once upon a time, So Urgent might have toyed with those he faces Thursday. Although the 5-year-old So Urgent is two summers removed from the prime of his career, he still figures to start at a short price over Elaborate, Waingarth, Ride and Shine, and R. Baggio. The race sets up perfectly for the favorite.

Bob Baffert trains So Urgent, who has won five races and $231,548 from 17 starts. David Flores rides So Urgent, whose up-front running style should allow him to gain a comfortable early lead. So Urgent has not raced since winning a classified allowance Jan. 10, but he has trained crisply as usual for his comeback and is likely to clear the field.

So Urgent has two main flaws. One is the possibility he is not the same horse he was two summers ago. His Jan. 10 classified win was his first genuinely competitive effort since the fall of 2001. Another flaw is not really So Urgent's fault. Rather it is the likelihood that his pace advantage will make him a wagering magnet. As the lone speed in a short field, So Urgent likely will start at 8-5 or less. It is a race he is supposed to win, providing small reward for his backers.

If So Urgent misfires, the most accomplished horse in the race, the 8-year-old Elaborate, could score his first win in almost two years. Elaborate has won six races and $555,652 in 25 starts for owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, and trainer Paco Gonzalez.

Both So Urgent and Elaborate are eligible Thursday because they are racing for the $100,000 claim price. It's the first time either will have raced for a tag.

Elaborate has not started since July, but he returns with a regular work pattern. He has fired fresh in the past, and the presence of jockey Pat Valenzuela suggests he might produce enough early speed to stay within striking range of So Urgent. On paper, it's a two-horse race. Waingarth, R. Baggio, and Ride and Shine can win only if the favorites run each other into the ground.

* Meanwhile, the struggle to fill races resulted in a two-furlong maiden race being split into two races. Firster Thedevilinme is the likely favorite in race 1. second-timer Bugsy Marone might be the right one in race 2.