03/23/2004 1:00AM

Texas Chili finds far better spot

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer William J. Morey Jr. nominated Texas Chili to last Saturday's Danville Handicap at Golden Gate Fields but passed on the race.

"I know he can't beat More Crafty," Morey said earlier that week, explaining why he wouldn't run.

It turned out to be a pretty good reason. More Crafty, claimed off Morey for $80,000 after winning the Albany Handicap, stunned a good group, winning the Danville by a head.

Once Morey decided against the Danville, he found Thursday's feature race in the Golden Gate condition book and set his sights on this second-level optional claimer at six furlongs.

The race drew 11 runners.

Twentythreejaybird is the speed of the race and drew the outside post. He won two straight before moving to this level last time, when he faded badly. He should be able to get the lead here, but he faces some pressure from Con Quixote and possibly Willie the Cat.

In the spring and summer of 2002, Willie the Cat won his first three starts, all at Emerald Downs. He was off for 18 months before returning last December at Hollywood Park, finishing last of six after some early trouble in an optional claiming sprint on the turf.

Willie the Cat, trained by Doug O'Neill, runs for a claiming price for the first time in his career in Thursday's race, his first since his comeback.

But Texas Chili is the one to beat, although he always needs a little pace help because of his closing style. He has hit the board in eight of nine starts here.