03/26/2008 11:00PM

El Mirage faces two new challenges


El Mirage has already proven to be among the elite 3-year-olds on the Arizona circuit when he sprints on dirt. The question Saturday is whether he can do as well going long on turf.

El Mirage is among seven 3-year-olds entered in the $30,000 Tempe Handicap, a one-mile grass stakes at Turf Paradise.

Trained by Kevin Lewis, El Mirage was a game winner of the Lost in the Fog Juvenile locally on Dec. 29. He was freshened for a couple of months and came back to be second behind sharp Southern California raider Leonides in the Feb. 25 Palo Verde Stakes. El Mirage has worked smartly, including a bullet seven furlongs in 1:26.20 on March 18. His sire, Cee's Tizzy, is best known for producing two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, but there's ample turf in his pedigree as well. El Mirage's grandsire, Relaunch, was a graded stakes winner on turf. Still, the new surface and new distance are hurdles. Regular rider Vince Guerra keeps the call.

Among those who are proven on the turf, Nordic Wind may be the horse to beat. Trained by Molly Pearson, Nordic Wind tried turf for the first time March 18 and relished it. He dueled on the pace and gamely prevailed. Chris Landeros rides.

Ouachita Creek is winless in three turf tries but has shown he likes the surface. He was second in an optional claimer locally on Feb. 20 and then third behind Nordic Wind.

Deanoguska was an impressive winner over $16,000 claimers going about

7 1/2 furlongs on the local grass course Feb. 29. He was fourth behind Nordic Wind and Ouachita Creek two weeks ago.

Tribal Hombre merits a look. He came back after five months on the bench, tried turf and a route for the first time, and gamely prevailed, so he obviously likes the footing and distance. He can certainly move forward off that run.