09/16/2003 12:00AM

Two from Patterson look hot

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Keep an eye on trainer Dennis Patterson at Bay Meadows on Thursday.

He starts Lethal Grande in the seventh race, a $32,000 claimer at six furlongs, and El Tirador, a winner in his debut, in the second race, a $16,000 claimer for 2-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Lethal Grande will be a longshot against five rivals, but he is a stakes winner at the distance and has hit the board in 15 of 27 starts.

It's just that he finds himself in one of the deepest, most well-matched group of runners on the grounds.

Among Lethal Grande's rivals Thursday are Beyond Brilliant, a stakes winner; Lytle Creek, a winner of three of his last four starts; Fancy M.D., who has been away since July 26 but has won five of his last seven starts; Big League, who has won two of his past three starts, both at Thursday's class and distance; and Ultimate Hitman, who ran second in each of his three starts this year.

"This is a super tough field," Patterson said.

But it is a field that also does not have a certified front-runner, although Ultimate Hitman or Big League could go for the lead.

Lethal Grande, who won the Governor's Speed Handicap at Portland Meadows in March in wire-to-wire style, will probably come from off the pace on Thursday.

"He tries hard," said Patterson, who was encouraged by Lethal Grande's last start, when the 4-year-old finished sixth, beaten two lengths.

In the start before that, Lethal Grande was last at five furlongs on turf behind Lytle Creek and Beyond Brilliant, among others. He moved into contention on the turn before stopping suddenly.

"He went from third to last in a sixteenth of a mile," Patterson said. "It's a mystery to me why he threw in such a clunker, but he ran better last time."

Meanwhile, Patterson's runner in the second race, El Tirador, ran better than Patterson expected in his debut on Aug. 7, winning a five-furlong maiden $12,500 claimer by two lengths while setting a pressured pace from the rail. His 59 Beyer is the best of anyone in Thursday's field.

Patterson saw enough in the debut to bring El Tirador back for a higher claiming tag, but he's not getting carried away, even though his colt is the likely favorite Thursday.

"I lot of thought goes into play to determine where to run a horse," he said. "It's sort of an educated guess. You're weighing everything."