03/19/2007 11:00PM

Little Thunder tries class drop

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago at this time, Little Thunder was on a roll. He had won 3 of his 4 starts at Gulfstream Park, including the Artax Handicap.

But Little Thunder has gone winless in eight starts since defeating Nightmare Affair, the third-place finisher in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, and earning a career-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the Artax. As a result, trainer Dale Capuano has dropped Little Thunder in under an $80,000 claiming tag, looking to right the ship in Thursday's $49,500 one-mile feature race.

Little Thunder is one of three in the seven-horse field running for a claiming price in the third-level optional claiming race, along with Bailero and Indian Lotus. The rest of the lineup is Valid Notebook, Cheiron, Bushmills Best, and Sleek John .

Little Thunder has started only once this winter at Gulfstream, finishing ninth after a wide trip in the Grade 2 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap. He worked well prior to that outing but has no recorded works in the 19 days since the race. Little Thunder has been at his best when on or near the pace, and he figures to be among the early leaders under Eddie Castro on Thursday.

Valid Notebook may be the one to beat. A multiple graded-stakes-placed son of Notebook, he finished third in both of his starts this winter. The first was in a fourth-level optional claiming dash on Jan. 25, when he encountered traffic problems as the 2-1 favorite. The second came just 10 days later, when he chased the undefeated Half Ours into the stretch before tiring.

Cheiron is from the barn of the little-known trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia, who has won with 4 of 14 starters at the meet. Cheiron steps up in company off second- and third-place finishes against $50,000 claiming opposition. But he might have been best in his last start. He lost by only a neck despite being blocked while attempting to launch a bid on the turn. He earned a 97 Beyer.

Like Little Thunder, Bushmills Best is a stakes winner who has not won a race in a long while, not since the OBS Championship a year ago in Ocala. A lightly raced 4-year-old, Bushmills Best makes his Gulfstream Park debut after a couple of starts at Tampa Bay Downs to open his current campaign.