02/24/2004 1:00AM

Majestic Thief by a nose


NEW ORLEANS - Majestic Thief won a head bob and the first stakes race of his career, taking the $50,000 Mardi Gras Handicap by a nose on a wet, foggy Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans on Tuesday.

The one-mile Mardi Gras was moved from turf to dirt, and six of the 12 horses entered were scratched. Not Majestic Thief, who now has won over fast dirt, mud, and turf.

"He runs either way, he always has," said his trainer, Walter Bindner.

It took Majestic Thief, a 5-year-old Woodman gelding owned by a partnership, six tries to win his maiden. Another eight starts, and he had added an entry-level allowance win. But since then, Majestic Thief has come along nicely, and his form from last fall into the Mardi Gras was excellent.

Still, this was only his second stakes race, and after rating in fourth behind an opening quarter-mile in 24.06 seconds and a half-mile in 47.57, Majestic Thief had about three lengths to make up on the proven stakes horse Skate Away, who had pressed the pace and gotten the jump. Skate Away cut the corner in front, with Majestic Thief and Shane Sellers coming after him. Majestic Thief caught Skate Away less than a sixteenth of a mile from the finish, but "loafed a little," according to Sellers, and nearly lost to a surging Skate Away.

One Nice Cat was well back in third, followed by Seainsky, Implicit, and Almuhathir. Majestic Thief paid $12.60 and was timed in 1:37.12 for a mile on wet-fast dirt.