12/31/2003 12:00AM

Money's no object

Tenpins may use the Louisiana Handicap as a prep for the Feb. 7 Donn at Gulfstream Park.

NEW ORLEANS - is the kind of horse apt to run for $600,000, not $60,000, but there he is, drawn in post 1 for Friday's Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds.

And it is not just him. The $60,000 Louisiana, at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, also features the return of , a highly promising brother to Giant's Causeway, and an appearance by Comic Truth, whose connections hope they have a horse for the New Orleans Handicap. Also entered were G.W.'s Skippie and Spanish Empire, one-two in the Dec. 6 Tenacious Handicap, as well as Kodema and Fitzroyal, talented horses in their own right.

But the center of attention will be Tenpins, who nearly went to California for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but instead stayed home to get wet and dirty in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap on Nov. 28 at Churchill. One of the favorites, Tenpins broke in the air, raced wide, and never got untracked over the sloppy track, finishing 12th of 14.

"He didn't get much out of that race at all," said Don Winfree, who trains Tenpins. "He didn't get over that racetrack."

Winfree's plan was to come to New Orleans and give Tenpins a break, but the horse had other ideas. "He was going to get a rest, but I couldn't do it," Winfree said. "He was going to hurt himself in his stall if I didn't do something with him."

The Louisiana could turn out to be a good spot to get Tenpins his first victory since he won the Grade 3 Iselin on Aug. 23, though Winfree hinted at a scratch if the track comes up wet. The race also could function as a springboard to the Donn Handicap on Feb. 7 at Gulfstream.

But Tenpins gives weight - as much as nine pounds - to his seven rivals, and may face a pressure-filled front-end trip, with plenty of pace to his outside. Fitzroyal and Spanish Empire are habitual front-runners, while Roar of the Tiger and Kodema also figure to force the issue, with Comic Truth likely to come from slightly farther behind.

Roar of the Tiger, who started his career in Ireland with trainer Aidan O'Brien, went down with an injury last winter, but not before impressively winning a pair of allowance races. He has trained very sharply over the Fair Grounds surface for his comeback. Comic Truth also has a legitimate chance, having galloped to a 10-length victory in the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby the last time he raced.