03/08/2008 1:00AM

Circular Quay gets best of Grasshopper


NEW ORLEANS - Circular Quay sure likes it way down yonder in Louisiana. Returning to the scene of his lone victory of 2007, Circular Quay on Saturday ended a four-race losing streak by upsetting heavily favored Grasshopper in a thrilling, bizarre running of the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.

The race was thrilling in that Circular Quay and Grasshopper battled the length of the demanding Fair Grounds stretch before Circular Quay won by a neck.

It was bizarre in that the acknowledged pacesetter, Silver Lord, stumbled badly at the start of the race and lost jockey Corey Lanerie, thus changing the complexion of the race, which found Grasshopper inheriting the lead.

Circular Quay ($15) won for the first time since capturing the Louisiana Derby here one year earlier. In receipt of three pounds (119-116) from Grasshopper, he was much closer to the pace than he had been in any of his previous 11 starts, no doubt benefiting from the addition of blinkers. That put him right on top of the slow pace, but - after aggressively, and futilely, trying to bull his way between horses down the backstretch - he still had to go around Grasshopper and his Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate, Magna Graduate, on the final turn, then engage a fresh Grasshopper.

"He was up in the bridle," said Garrett Gomez, who rode Circular Quay. "I was very surprised. I was happy, but at the same time, I wasn't liking where he was putting me between the five-eighths and the half-mile pole. I didn't want to let him go. I was hoping [Magna Graduate] would clear, then I was able to ease him out."

Circular Quay gained the advantage at the top of the stretch, but Grasshopper, the 4-5 favorite, tried to battle back along the rail under Robby Albarado after setting fractions of 24.13 seconds, 48.19, and 1:12.27.

"I have no excuses for him," Albarado said. "I lost my speed, when Corey fell off. I inherited the lead, but it was slow enough."

Circular Quay was timed in 1:49.80 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. Reporting for Duty finished third, 4 1/4 lengths behind Grasshopper, then came Brass Hat and Magna Graduate.

Circular Quay, 4, has now won 5 times in 12 starts for owners Michael and Doreen Tabor. Assistant Ginny DePasquale saddled Circular Quay for Pletcher.