01/10/2008 12:00AM

Big Cap candidates lining up

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ARCADIA, Calif. - At least until Saturday's seventh race at Santa Anita, the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, there is a vacancy for the role of leading older horse in Southern California.

With Awesome Gem, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Classic in October, not expected to start until later this winter, and top 4-year-old Tiago starting in Saturday's San Fernando Stakes, the seven older horses in the San Pasqual field are seeking to fill that position. The Grade 2 San Pasqual is a prep to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.

There are several horses capable of winning the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual. Molengao, the winner of two Grade 2 handicaps last year, makes his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup last June, but must beat Heatseeker and Racketeer, the first two finishers in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last month, the improving Well Armed, and the European import Thousand Words.

The San Pasqual was originally scheduled for last Saturday but was postponed when racing was canceled for three days because of drainage problems with Santa Anita's Cushion Track.

Trainer Paulo Lobo said the one-week delay will not affect Molengao, who emerged from the 2007 Gold Cup "very body sore."

"We are ready," Lobo said. The extra week "made no difference."

Molengao is the 120-pound highweight, and will carry two to seven more pounds than his rivals. He will be in pursuit of Well Armed, who may be the lone front-runner. Trained by Eoin Harty, Well Armed, 5, won his last start, an allowance race at Hollywood Park in November. He is seeking his first stakes win in the San Pasqual.

Thousand Words will be making his U.S. debut. The lone 4-year-old in the field, Thousand Words won 3 of 11 starts in England, highlighted by a win in the Group 3 Tattersall Stakes at Newmarket in September 2006. In 2007, he was winless in six starts, including a fifth in the French 2000 Guineas.

Now trained by Bobby Frankel, Thousand Words will be making his first start on a synthetic surface.

Frankel also trains Racketeer, who has yet to win a stakes. The second-place finish in the Native Diver was Racketeer's first start in more than six months, and his best result in a stakes.

Heatseeker displayed a career-best performance in the Native Diver over 1 1/8 miles, closing from seventh in a field of 10 to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a 30-1 upset. A 5-year-old horse trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Heatseeker will be a fraction of that price in the San Pasqual.

"We're happy with the way the horse is training," Hollendorfer said.

Hollendorfer said the San Pasqual is a pivotal race for Heatseeker en route to the Santa Anita Handicap.

"If we can make it, that would be a good race to go for," Hollendorfer said. "I know we're thinking of that race."