02/18/2012 3:20PM

Fair Grounds: Mardi Gras has well-matched pair

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Daisy Devine and Cherokee Queen both seem to love New Orleans. But while most New Orleans lovers will have found their way into the French Quarter on Tuesday afternoon, as the Mardi Gras celebration crests, Daisy Devine and Cherokee Queen have work to do. The pair will start as the likely favorites in the Tuesday feature at Fair Grounds, the $75,000 Mardi Gras Stakes.

Daisy Devine won the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks last spring, and in her only start at the ongoing meet captured the Pago Hop Stakes in her first try over the Fair Grounds grass course. Cherokee Queen, spending her first winter in the Crescent City, has gone 2 for 2, her two grass stakes wins punctuated by an impressive last-out score in the Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap on Jan. 14. It’s difficult to separate the two in Tuesday’s race, which is carded for about 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Daisy Devine hasn’t raced in almost three months and didn’t post a published workout for more than a month after winning the Pago Hop by more than two lengths, but trainer Andrew McKeever said the 4-year-old filly is fully recovered from what he termed a very minor issue that led to her absence, and Daisy Devine’s work pattern says as much. Beginning Jan. 16, she got on a once-a-week breeze schedule that culminated in a bullet five-furlong drill on Feb. 14.

But even if Daisy Devine is ready to run her race, it’s no sure thing she can handle Cherokee Queen. Daisy Devine is 2 for 2 on turf, but both those races, as well as her other eight starts, came in age-restricted competition, and the Mardi Gras will be her first try against older foes.

Seven-year-old Cherokee Queen, from the Steve Margolis barn, appears to be aging well, but the Mardi Gras might well be her last start before owner Clark Brewster whisks her away to post-racing life as a broodmare. If so, Cherokee Queen can go out on a high note. Making her first start for Margolis and first since Brewster purchased her at an auction last fall, Cherokee Queen won the Dec. 17 Blushing K.D. by a neck, coming on in the final half-furlong to just get up at the wire. But facing similar rivals in the Krantz Memorial last month, Cherokee Queen was fairly dominant, with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan confidently guiding her to a far outside path for the stretch run as Cherokee Queen mowed down her opponents with a powerful finish.

A similar stretch punch might give Cherokee Queen a slight edge on her younger rival, who gets only a two-pound break in the weights. If the race is rained onto dirt, however, Daisy Devine, a proven main-track performer, should have a significant edge on any of the six others entered in the Mardi Gras.

Among the rest, Tampa shipper Holidaysatthefarm and recent Fair Grounds turf allowance winner Alluring Squall have the best chance at an upset if the race remains on grass. A switch to the main track might put rail-drawn Sterling Madame in the hunt.