11/04/2003 1:00AM

Premium Saltine eyes three-peat


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For the first seven races of his career, Premium Saltine was a talented but inconsistent horse. A winner in fast time one day, he could just as easily finish up the track the next time.

That was during his former life - when he was a colt. Now a gelding, Premium Saltine is fast, game, and consistent. Thursday he aims to win his third consecutive win in the ninth race at Churchill Downs, a $58,500 four-other-than allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs.

When Premium Saltine won his first race as a gelding by six lengths July 26, trainer Al Stall was floored by the sudden improvement. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness,' " he said.

Premium Saltine was more than visually impressive. Besides winning easily he ran quickly, earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. A race later, he scored in the slop at Arlington Sept. 14, this time earning a 100 Beyer.

Unraced since then, Premium Saltine enters Thursday's contest fresh by design. Stall passed on running the horse at Keeneland, where he had struggled in two prior efforts. "He seems to prefer Churchill," he said.

Rafael Bejarano rides.

As hot as Premium Saltine is, Price of Honour is hotter. Since being claimed for $50,000 by Tom Boy Stable and trainer Tom Amoss in May, he has won four of six races. He comes off a dominant 3 3/4-length score at Keeneland Oct. 16, an effort that earned him a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Calvin Borel rides.

Completing the field are Hackendiffy, Paging, City Rapid, Blazing Count, and Salty Genius.

In Thursday's eighth race, some of the best turf sprinters on the grounds meet. The likely favorite is Abderian, who missed by a nose when second in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at Kentucky Downs Sept. 20. After the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash, he finished third in the Woodford County Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 17.

Eddie Martin, one of the leading riders at Hawthorne Race Course, has been named to ride.

A winner of eight of 31 starts, Abderian is trained by Ben Feliciano and owned by Richard Englander.

Abderian's principal opponents appear to be Are You Down, a course specialist, and Testify, a two-time stakes winner this year who is eligible to run Thursday because he is in for a claiming price of $80,000.