03/31/2005 1:00AM

Listen to the brain, not the heart

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Once upon a time, Bluesthestandard and Full Moon Madness would have run circles around the competition they faced Thursday in the second race at Santa Anita - a six-furlong sprint for $40,000 claimers.

Claiming races, however, are the last refuge for geldings whose best days are long gone, and only a mushy sentimentalist would have wagered Thursday on either stakes-winning veteran.

Although Bluesthestandard and Full Moon Madness have combined for 30 victories and more than $2.1 million in earnings, their disappointing performances served a stark reminder that current condition remains a primary consideration when betting horses. And when the odds are low on a stakes-horse-turned-claimer, bettors must either pass the race or bet against former stars.

Bluesthestandard was dropping after three successive subpar efforts, including an eighth-place finish last out. His odds were 2.40-1 on Thursday. Full Moon Madness also was dropping off a bad race, and was favored at 2.20-1. It might be the worst bet in racing to back a dropper at a short price, but the money flowed on Thursday. From a win pool of $145,954, Bluesthestandard attracted $35,422, Full Moon Madness another $37,969.

The outcome was no surprise. Their best days long gone, Bluesthestandard finished fifth and Full Moon Madness finished second. The winner was Ride and Shine, a $17.40 deep closer whose placement in a $40,000 claimer was logical. Not so the former stars, and the scenario is worthy of review, because it will happen again - a stakes winner who is in cheap, starting at low odds.

Funny thing is, bettors habitually believe that back-class runners such as Bluesthestandard and Full Moon Madness will return to peak form when they drop in class. Some do. Many don't. And when the odds are low, a horseplayer must be a skeptic.

This is no knock on either horse. Both are crowd favorites, and Full Moon Madness was the top selection by the Daily Racing Form analyst. But there is a difference between picking likely winners and making sensible bets. Neither veteran qualified as a good wager Thursday.

Bluesthestandard has been a joy to watch ever since he won his April 25, 2001, debut in a $25,000 maiden claiming race at Hollywood Park. Three of his next six starts were in $10,000 claiming races, and he won 6 of his first 7. Winning would always be his habit. Before his current tailspin, Bluesthestandard had won 15 of his first 28 starts.

It was not until owner Jeffrey Sengara and trainer Ted H. West claimed him for $50,000 on Dec. 31, 2002, that Bluesthestandard truly blossomed. And over the next 13 months, he became one of the top sprinters in the country by winning three graded stakes and finishing second in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

But in 2004, Bluesthestandard unraveled. He won the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap in his first start of the year, and then fell into a spiral. His speed figures declined, he had three layoffs of 45 days or more, and by the time he ran Thursday, it was fairly evident that Bluesthestandard had lost a step. Question was, how many had he lost?

On Thursday, Bluesthestandard was facing claimers for the first time in more than two years. He was supposed to improve against easier company. He was expected to wake up.

When he started Thursday as the second favorite, Bluesthestandard was yesterday's horse. A former hero, the 8-year-old gelding ran well Thursday, but only for a while. He pressed the pace, seemingly full of run, then completely fell apart passing the eighth pole. He lost by eight lengths, and was claimed by Jeff Mullins. Bluesthestandard was not the only back-class veteran to disappoint.

Full Moon Madness, a 10-year-old who made his debut on June 25, 1997, likewise was expected to improve Thursday. After all, the 15-for-48 veteran had earned more than $1.1 million and had run a good race only one start previously, when he was second by a length in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint. But his last start, a dull eighth-place finish on turf, suggested something was amiss.

If that turf race could be forgiven, Full Moon Madness was qualified to win Thursday. While a horse's last start usually is the best indicator of current form, there was no way to know for certain which direction Full Moon Madness would go. The good news is a bettor does not need to know for sure. Handicapping rarely includes black-and-white answers. The only certainty regarding Full Moon Madness was that his odds were low. And while for many Full Moon Madness may have entered as the most likely winner, he was not the most sensible wager, particularly not as the 2-1 favorite.

Full Moon Madness, durable gelding that he once was, could have won Thursday. And for a few strides in deep stretch it looked like he would do just that. Full Moon Madness, however, has lost a few steps. Thursday afternoon, he got worn down late and finished second by a length.

Once upon a time, Bluesthestandard and Full Moon Madness would have toyed with the field they faced Thursday. Sensible wagering, however, always includes analysis of current form.

And when a former stakes winner shows up in a $40,000 claiming race, that horse cannot be trusted. Thursday afternoon at Santa Anita, only a mushy sentimentalist would have wagered on Bluesthestandard or Full Moon Madness.