02/07/2006 1:00AM

Seven face a possible crossroads


ALBANY, Calif. - The $40,000 starter allowance level is an interesting one for trainers and handicappers.

It can be a springboard to stakes company or can tell trainers that they may have to plan on a claiming career for a horse.

Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature brings seven runners together at one mile in a race open to runners who have competed for a claiming price of $40,000 or less and have won only one race.

Three runners coming off maiden victories are in the field. Two members of the cast have had several unsuccessful tries at the level, which begins to weigh against them from a handicapping perspective.

The one to beat may be , who graduated in a straight maiden race last out. He qualifies for the race because he ran for a claiming price earlier in his career.

His first start after being sent to trainer Steve Specht was for a $16,000 claiming price. He ran a solid third and was boosted to the $20,000 level for his next start, where he ran second. He then won in straight maiden company.

Booker Time's victory came as he sat behind Dance Thief and nailed him at the wire. Dance Thief had been off for a year but had run second in his debut in a stakes at age 2.

"He ran very well and beat a decent colt," Specht said.

Booker Time, who has a win, two seconds, and three thirds in seven career starts, faces a new challenge Thursday when he is asked to stretch out to a mile for the first time.

, third last time after taking the lead in the lane in his debut at this level off a maiden win, should provide the toughest competition with a win and a third in two starts at the distance.

has lost five times at the level, including his past four starts. He has picked up a check in those past four starts and must be considered a contender, but 0 for 5 does begin to count against him.

Anziyan's Song is 0 for 3 in three tries at the level and was favored each time. The blinkers come off, and Bay Meadows's co-champion jockey, apprentice Martin Garcia, stays on, but questions linger.

Lethal Litigator just graduated for a $14,000 claiming price, while Appealing Saint graduated for $22,500. The just-claimed C.J. Hawk moves up from the claiming ranks.