10/29/2003 12:00AM

This time, Gulchie may win the war

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Gulchie has been the exacta player's friend and a win bettor's nightmare since May.

Racing in allowance races and optional claimers, Gulchie has finished second in four consecutive starts, a streak that may end in a $48,000 optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita on Friday.

"He kind of has seconditis," said trainer Kristin Mulhall. "He always wins the battle, and something comes on the outside and catches him."

At the least, Gulchie has kept good company. At Del Mar, he finished second to Continuously on July 28. Continuously returned to finish third in the Del Mar Handicap. On Aug. 25, Gulchie was second to Runaway Dancer, the upset winner of the Carleton Burke Handicap last Friday.

Gulchie had traffic trouble in both races.

Friday's race is run at a distance that Gulchie can handle. His last four races have been between 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles.

"I think he can run fresh," Mulhall said. "He's dead fit to go the distance."

The race drew seven entrants, including Golden Rahy, Helms Deep, Middleweight, Nazirali, Que Borges, and Right Proof.

Middleweight, sixth in the Del Mar Derby, won twice during the summer - a maiden race at Hollywood Park and an allowance race at Del Mar on Aug. 11. Middleweight races for B. Wayne Hughes, trainer Richard Mandella, and jockey David Flores, the connections that won Saturday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Action this Day.

Two other runners in the field have stakes experience.

Nazirali won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap in 2002 and runs Friday for an $80,000 claiming tag. He was a well-beaten fourth as the 6-5 favorite in a similar field on Oct. 8.

Helms Deep was fourth in the Academy Road Stakes here last March. Trained by Carla Gaines, Helms Deep won his last start, a first-condition allowance race at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Del Mar on July 25. Friday's optional claimer is the longest race of his 12-race career.

Right Proof is well suited to the distance. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Right Proof won an allowance race over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 16, but was third on Oct. 8 in the same race in which Nazirali was fourth.

The purse for Friday's optional claimer was originally listed as $53,000 but was reduced on Wednesday when purses were cut for the remainder of the Oak Tree meeting because of lower than expected mutuel handle.