02/05/2009 12:00AM

Matto Mondo needs the lead in Thunder Road


ARCADIA, Calif. - It took four races for trainer Richard Mandella to figure out Matto Mondo's optimum style.

"He's pretty much meant to go," Mandella said.

A front-running strategy worked in an optional claimer over a mile on turf at Santa Anita on Dec. 27. Mandella is hoping it will succeed again in Saturday's $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap over a mile on turf.

At least the Thunder Road is scheduled for turf, but it could be shifted to the Pro-Ride main track if the forecast for rain is accurate.

Matto Mondo, the winner of the 2007 Chilean 2000 Guineas, won for the first time in the United States on Dec. 27. He finished ninth, eighth, and third in his first three U.S. starts, never gaining a clear lead.

"He needs the lead, that's the way he runs his race," Mandella said.

The Grade 3 Thunder Road has drawn a field of 10, and has only one other confirmed front-runner - the multiple stakes winner Monterey Jazz. Trained by Craig Dollase, Monterey Jazz has won three stakes from the front, including the Grade 3 Texas Mile by eight lengths at Lone Star Park last April. Monterey Jazz has also won from a stalking position.

The 118-pound topweight in the Thunder Road, Monterey Jazz is best on a firm turf course, Dollase said. He wants to avoid a wet surface, and said that that Monterey Jazz was compromised by a "good" turf course when third behind Matto Mondo on Dec. 27.

"He can run on turf as long as it's not too boggy," Dollase said. "He didn't care for the soft going and he needed a race. We expect the real Jazz to show up again. I would prefer a firm turf course. That's why a switch to the main track wouldn't bother him."

A surface switch also would not hurt Becrux, the veteran 7-year-old gelding. He is unlikely to start unless the turf course is soft or the race is moved off the grass, trainer John Sadler said. "I'd love to get him on the main track at a mile," Sadler said.

Ferneley is making his third start at the meeting after finishing second and third in two Grade 2 turf stakes. Trainer Ben Cecil is not concerned about a third start in six weeks.

"He's a pretty tough horse," Cecil said.

Becrux and Ferneley were also entered in Sunday's $200,000 San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on the main track.