12/31/2003 1:00AM

Tenpins not unbeatable in Louisiana


NEW ORLEANS - Tenpins, an established Grade 2-type handicap horse, might be too strong for his opponents in Friday's Louisiana Handicap, one of the more compelling $60,000 stakes a racing fan will encounter. But skeptics won't need to look long to find holes.

Tenpins just turned 6, and his last start didn't exactly meet his high standards. In the Clark Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 28, Tenpins encountered trouble on a racetrack that isn't his favorite, but his 12th-place finish - a career-worst performance - is disturbing.

And then there is his opposition Friday.

First comes Roar of the Tiger, a blue-blooded cull from the Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien's stable. A 5-year-old full brother to the star racehorse Giant's Causeway, Roar of the Tiger was imported to the U.S. in 2002 about the same time as Mineshaft, to whom Roar of the Tiger ran third in an entry-level allowance race in November of that year. Like Mineshaft, Roar of the Tiger failed to develop on the European turf but fared much better on American dirt. After his initial loss here, Roar of the Tiger galloped to two sharp wins over Fair Grounds allowance horses before going down with an ankle injury that has kept him out for almost a year.

Equally intriguing is Comic Truth, a 3-year-old whose career hit a snag last spring when he lost four in a row, a downward spiral that coincided with racing around two turns. After a dull try April 12 in the Arkansas Derby, Comic Truth didn't start again until September.

When Comic Truth resurfaced, he was no longer under trainer Cole Norman, who had transformed him from maiden claimer to multiple stakes winner at age 2. Dr. Kalarikkal Jayaraman (many call him Dr. J), who owns Comic Truth, had made one of his frequent trainer changes, sending Comic Truth to Patrick Daly, a head trainer since last January.

Under Daly, a former assistant to Ken McPeek, Comic Truth has undergone a renaissance. He was sixth behind Cajun Beat in the Kentucky Cup Sprint and raced against the grain of a true inside speed bias Oct. 4 in the Indiana Derby, where he rallied wide to finish fourth. Things finally fell his way Nov. 16 at Remington Park. Comic Truth scored a 10-length win in the Oklahoma Derby in an excellent time, and at a true route distance of nine furlongs.

"Dr. J was always convinced he would get the route of ground, and I believed him," Daly said. "I think he'd run a mile and a quarter.

"He's been on this high ever since he came to me in July. He trains great, but he's a real tough horse in the paddock. The fans at Remington thought we were crazy. We had a lip chain on him, but he was dancing around, dripping wet. It's not at all that he's a nervous horse; it's anything but nerves with him. He's just an eager participant. He wants to compete."

When Daly begins bearing down on Comic Truth in his breezes, Comic Truth understands a race isn't far off, and his competitive fire flows. Late Monday morning, Comic Truth chewed intently at a door closed across the bottom half of his stall entrance.

"No question he knows when he's getting ready to run," Daly said. "I breeze him a good five-eighths, and then when we set him down in that last half-mile work, he really knows. We finally had to close the door on him this morning because we were afraid he was going to run right out of his stall."

Daly has 16 horses stabled at Fair Grounds and said he has many more in Ocala, Fla., waiting for stall space to open here. His fledgling career is grinding forward, but Comic Truth is the one horse he has right now that could help it take off.