01/31/2008 12:00AM

Mr Napper Tandy fails to find easier spot

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The $75,000 Thunder Road Handicap at a mile on turf on Saturday is a backup race for Mr Napper Tandy. Trainer Jack Carava wanted to run the 4-year-old colt in the $300,000 Strub Stakes later on Saturday but he "missed too much training" because of recent wet weather.

But after he saw Mr Napper Tandy's opponents in the Thunder Road, Carava wonders if he should have tried the Strub, which is led by 2007 Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago.

The Thunder Road cast includes Awesome Gem, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park in October; Lang Field, the winner of the Grade 1 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park in November; Storm Military, a Group 1 winner in Argentina last year; and the 2006 graded stakes winners Moth Ball, Siren Lure, and Stratham.

"The Thunder Road is just as tough" as the Strub, Carava said.

Mr Napper Tandy has won 2 of 9 starts, with 6 second-place finishes in a career that began in England. Owned by La Canada Stables, the British-bred Mr Napper Tandy has made three starts in the United States, including a second in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes at a mile on turf on Dec. 26.

"I figure he's fit enough for a mile," Carava said.

"He's a good horse, but he's the kind of horse that you have to space his races. He gives it his all and he loses some weight."

Mr Napper Tandy starts from the rail. The Thunder Road drew 14 entrants, but only 12 can start. Awesome Gem is not a definite starter. Trainer Craig Dollase said earlier this week that he may run Awesome Gem in Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

Storm Military and Lang Field are making their second start of the meeting after finishing fourth and fifth in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap here on Dec. 30.

La Habra: Passion squares off with Ariege

Saturday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the hillside turf course is the first leg of the day's pick six.

It could provide the promising Passion with her first stakes win. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Passion won her turf debut in an allowance race at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course on Jan. 18. Last summer, she was third in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga.

Passion has nine rivals in the Grade 3 La Habra.

While Passion will be well-supported because of her recent win, the role of favorite may go to Ariege, who was a troubled third in the Blue Norther Stakes on Dec. 30.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, Ariege was blocked in the stretch of the Blue Norther, a one-mile turf race. She finished 2 3/4 lengths behind Gorgeous Goose, and may have threatened the winner with a better trip.