03/04/2003 1:00AM

'Thunder' on a roll


ARCADIA, Calif. - A 6-1 overlay in a similar race last month, Thunder Bullet is out for his third straight win Thursday at Santa Anita in the seventh-race feature. His odds be will be cut in half, which is appropriate considering the weekday card is replete with short fields and underlay prices.

Seven sprinters will go 6 1/2 furlongs on turf in the two-other-than allowance/optional $80,000 claimer, conditions identical to those under which Thunder Bullet won last month. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Thunder Bullet will try to become the fourth horse to win three races this meet, following La Canada series winner Got Koko, older claimer Ditch Digger, and 3-year-old filly Woman Onfasttrack.

The wagering dilemma Thursday is deciding whether Thunder Bullet's form is so obviously exposed that he offers no value, or if Thunder Bullet is such a total standout that his odds do not matter.

Six others will try their best to knock off the favorite. They include three comebackers of varying ability - Grade 3 winner Van Rouge, late-runner Pelirrojo, and Holdthehelm. Two others with recent form are Macward, who has tailed off this winter, and longshot Kifissos.

The feature is the second turf race on an eight-race card that attracted just 56 entrants. In race 3, a second-condition allowance at 1 1/8 miles, Mananan McLir is the class of the field while dropping out of a series of graded stakes. He faces lightly raced River God, who is stretching out to two turns after a promising sprint comeback. Devine Wind, Total Impact, Platinum Duke, and Academy Spy complete the field.

Santa Anita racing officials are relying on weather reports that predict no rain through Thursday, which would allow the races to stay on grass. Though Thunder Bullet has won on dirt and turf, his best races have been in turf sprints. Thunder Bullet has two wins and a troubled second in three starts down the hillside turf course, and he figures to fall into a perfect trip Thursday under Julie Krone. A 4-year-old gelding with five wins from his 11 starts, Thunder Bullet should be racing in second position behind likely pacesetter Devil's Horn. When that one fades, Thunder Bullet can be expected to get first run to the wire.

Beyond the horse's current form, Thunder Bullet is trained by one of the hottest trainers in Southern California. Jeff Mullins entered the week second in the trainer standings with 17 wins from just 55 starts. The 31 percent strike rate includes four turf-sprint wins (two by Thunder Bullet and one each by Hadl and Buddy Gil).

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