01/04/2006 12:00AM

Reasons to believe in Kewen

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When a 6-year-old veteran such as Kewen runs the best race of his life in the 21st start of his career, a handicapper's natural inclination is to expect a mild relapse the next time he runs.

Skeptical horseplayers adopting that viewpoint Friday at Santa Anita will dismiss Kewen in the race-7 feature, a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint that is the best wagering contest on the card. But dismissing Kewen would be a mistake. He may not be a lock in the second-condition allowance, but none of the other 13 entrants is either.

The appeal of the allowance/optional $62,500 claimer is it is so competitive that a qualified entrant may slip through the parimutuel cracks. One can only hope. Contenders include Kewen, Richebourg, Lazzeri, and Ulistnintome. Three other contenders are on the also-eligible list - Wild Wadi, Cheroot, and Art Moderne.

Pick a winner, or simply narrow down the logical candidates and then bet the overlay? If there are still enough doubters, Kewen may qualify. He was coming off the worst three-race series of his career when trainer Gary Mandella dropped him into a claiming race for the first time Sept. 28 at Santa Anita.

perked up, finished second, and was claimed for $40,000 by owners David and Holly Wilson and trainer Vladimir Cerin. It looked like a good purchase, despite a 16-race losing streak that stretched back more than two years. Had Kewen forgotten how to win?

Five weeks later, Cerin and the Wilsons entered Kewen for double the claim price - $80,000. The move was either a sign of supreme confidence or a last-ditch effort for a turf start before the no-turf Hollywood Park fall meet that was opening the following week. Given a perfect ride by Martin Pedroza (who went down in a spill one race before), Kewen rallied to a one-length victory with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

On Friday, the question is whether Kewen can run two alike. There are reasons to believe he can. Kewen is entered under allowance conditions - he is not for sale, this time - and has had two months between starts. All systems go. Bettors who want to play skeptic are advised to be skeptical of horses at lower odds.

, away since June, runs well fresh and also has won on the hill.