03/04/2004 1:00AM

Sunland: Bang faces top sprinters


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Saturday's $50,000-added Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap for older sprinters offers a full field of interesting sprinters, headed by Bang, the starting highweight at 122 pounds, who will be going for his fourth consecutive win at this meet.

Bang, trained by Eric Kruljac for owner William Hendricks, beat Quarter Horses over 1,000 yards on Feb. 21 in the Budweiser Handicap, a race in which he set a new track record of 51.47 seconds. Bang started the meet after a layoff of about seven months, and even his connections must be surprised by his achievements; Bang could have been had for $25,000 in his first out here Nov. 29. Regular rider Antonio Noguez has the return call in this 6 1/2-furlong race.

Bang will be facing tougher competition than in his previous wins at the meet. All of the top sprinters on the grounds are entered, along with Richest Half, whom Steve Asmussen has sent in from Oaklawn Park. Richest Half breezed a leisurely half-mile in 49.60 here on Tuesday.

Richest Half, owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt, made his return at Oaklawn on Feb. 4 after a nine-month rest, finishing second in an optional allowance. Richest Half has been assigned 119 and will have Ken Tohill in the saddle.