03/06/2003 1:00AM

As usual, Asmussen an invading force at Sunland Park

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - It's locals versus invaders in Saturday's $50,000-added Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs at Sunland Park. A field of nine will go to the post and, as usual, the strongest of the out-of-towners comes from the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen claimed Explosive Count for $25,000 Dec. 12 on behalf of owner R. T. Sparks at Fair Grounds. Explosive Count has a win and two thirds since then, beating two-other-than competition in his last out. He is a versatile runner who can stalk or lay off the pace, which will give jockey Sal Gonzalez plenty of options.

Owner-trainer Paula Capestro claimed Rapidough for $40,000 at Santa Anita Feb. 2 and the Thomas Memorial will be his first start for his new barn. Rapidough was 2 of 13 on the tough Southern California circuit last year. Kerry Kretzer will ride.

American Pastime, owned by R. E. Bullin, was claimed at Santa Anita for $50,000 Oct. 14 and won his first two races at this meet, including the KLAQ Handicap. In his last race American Pastime stretched out around two turns in the Winsham Lad Handicap, but that experiment failed when he tired and finished sixth, almost nine lengths behind Premeditation.

Back at his best distance, American Pastime will be tough to beat. His trainer, Todd Fincher, has had a superb meet here, winning with 16 of his 43 starters. Second-leading rider Ricardo Jaime will ride.