02/02/2005 1:00AM

Not much separates contenders in feature


SAN MATEO, Calif. - A competitive band of seven sprinters takes center stage in Friday night's feature at Bay Meadows, a six-furlong, $32,000 claiming race that figures to be tough from start to finish.

The likely favorite is , who has won eight of 19 career starts, including his past four. Early on, I Love Racing will probably be chasing Smoke Till Dawn, who is 13 for 36 in his career and 12-4-3-0 here. Then he will have to hold off the late charge of Look Quick, who just beat Smoke Till Dawn and is 11 for 42 in his career and 11-6-2-2 here.

Those three appear to be the primary contenders, but three others figure to threaten, including Bub, freshened since his last win on Nov. 24; Operatic, who is 5-2-1-1 here; and Peek a Bootrando, 2 for 5 in his career but a maiden winner in his lone start here.

Favour for Joey, winless since 2003 but with a 14-3-3-6 career record, rounds out the field.

I Love Racing beat a field of $16,000 claimers by a nose when he was claimed Nov. 28 at Hollywood Park. He has stepped up in each of three tries since then, winning for $20,000 and $25,000 before capturing an allowance race in his last start.

seemed to snap back to life in his last start, on Jan. 20, when he was second by two lengths behind Look Quick. The owner of the Golden Gate Fields track record at six furlongs, Smoke Till Dawn has the best early speed in the field and can be tough when allowed an easy lead.

He probably won't get one here, however, with I Love Racing just inside him. Since I Love Racing can sit a bit, Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze will probably allow him to get comfortable early. He should be part of the overall pace picture whether he guns early or not.

will appreciate a hotly contested pace duel, and he could get it. He should be sitting behind Smoke Till Dawn and I Love Racing, possibly in midpack, before unleashing a strong kick late. His love of this track will also serve him well.

Peek a Bootrando, a stalker, and Operatic, who will be a bit farther off the pace than Peek a Bootrando, are capable of springing mild upsets.

Peek a Bootrando dueled early with stakes-winning Razen Hazen before fading in his last start. He had no real trouble that day but was inside on a track that was playing well to the outside.

Operatic could find himself back in fifth early, but he is sure to finish strongly.