01/02/2004 12:00AM

Spanish Empire pounces

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It was late Friday afternoon at Fair Grounds, and at the half-mile pole of the Louisiana Handicap, jockey Eddie Martin had a decision: Be patient and attack Tenpins in the stretch of the race, or go for a small hole between Tenpins and a tiring Fitzroyal.

Martin is an aggressive rider, and there would be no waiting this day. He sent his mount, Spanish Empire, up to challenge for the lead, and after running with Tenpins around the turn, Martin had him. Spanish Empire went clear at the top of the stretch, and though he tried to put on the brakes once clear, he went on to a one-length victory over Tenpins, who came again to outfinish Comic Truth for second.

Steve Asmussen has trained the 4-year-old Spanish Empire for just three starts, and besides the colt's tendency to wait on horses after he makes the lead, Spanish Empire is getting better all the time. "We're hoping he's New Orleans Handicap material," Asmussen said.

When the gates opened in the $60,000 Louisiana, Tenpins went straight to the front, while the horse outside of him, Roar of the Tiger, broke sideways into Kodema. But the clear lead was short-lived for Tenpins, who was favored at odds of 3-5. Fitzroyal came quickly to press him through an opening quarter-mile in 23.85 seconds, and as Fitzroyal ran out of steam, Spanish Empire pounced. He paid $25.60 to win, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.58.