04/12/2005 12:00AM

Old reliable Lord Albion facing tough ones

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Lord Albion is not the best horse running at Bay Meadows on Thursday.

That designation may go to Healthy Addiction, who will go in the day's feature race, a $50,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares at one mile.

may not even be the best horse in the $16,000 one-mile claimer he is entered in.

But Lord Albion, a 7-year-old gelding stepping up with a two-race winning streak, has become one of the most respected runners on the grounds. He is an iron horse, making his 24th start, for his fifth barn, over a two-year period.

Nine victories over the past two years earns recognition, particularly when one considers Lord Albion didn't make his debut until the age of 6 on Jan. 11, 2004. All the more remarkable is that Lord Albion wins his races from off the pace on northern California's speed-favoring tracks, with 4 wins and 3 seconds on the Bay Meadows main track (counting a victory at the Bay Meadows Fair).

"He was just a horse we picked out that day," said trainer John Martin, who claimed him for $8,000 for Robert Bone on Feb. 23.

In two starts - both victories at the $12,500 claiming level - Lord Albion has earned $14,575 for Bone.

"Truthfully, I lean to speed horses," Martin said. "I don't like horses that come from behind.

"He's a real big horse, and he tries as hard as he can," he said. "The way I train is easy, particularly with a horse that is proven, even at a route. I don't train hard compared to others, but sometimes that change of pattern works well."

It has paid off for Lord Albion, who will be meeting some tough customers in , who has earned $371,721, and Wild and Wise, whose earnings total $266,861. The one to beat could be Priest River, who drops back to his winning level after running fourth in a tough allowance in his last start.

Healthy Addiction, second in both starts this year, is the one to beat in the feature, but she will face another Martin trainee, Guidebook, who is making her first start since getting sick after running second to Marwood in the Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap last July 5.

Also in the race is Mahalo, stretching out for the first time. Her trainer, Art Sherman, said he wanted to run her once more at six furlongs, "but the race hasn't been able to go."

"We've always looked to trying her long and maybe going on the turf," he said. "They're kind of forcing me to run her long here, but it will give us an idea what type of runner she'll be."