03/29/2012 4:43PM

Fair Grounds: Upperline the one to beat in Bayou Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Upperline makes her first start of 2012 in Saturday’s Bayou Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS – It’s fair to wonder if Upperline, making her first start since October, will be at her best when she starts Saturday in the $100,000 Bayou Handicap. And it’s fair to wonder if she’ll need to be.

Only six other turf fillies and mares were entered in the 1 1/16-mile race, and with Daisy Devine, the top turf horse this winter in New Orleans, already in Kentucky preparing for a race at Keeneland, the Bayou didn’t draw a scintillating bunch.

Upperline, a 5-year-old Maria’s Mon mare, is a Grade 3 winner of six races, and perhaps more importantly, she is 2 for 2 on the Fair Grounds turf course. She won the Lacombe Stakes in February 2011 and turned in a career-best performance in the 2011 Bayou, tracking the pace and drawing away to a powerful four-length victory.

Upperline hasn’t raced since finishing second by less than a length in the Oct. 24 Dowager Stakes, but she has posted a good-looking string of morning workouts under assistant trainer Hilary Pridham beginning in mid-February.

“Hilary has worked her every time, and after her final work for this race, she gave me the two thumbs up,” trainer Mike Stidham said. “She’s trained really well, and she’s ready to go.”

Upperline has a versatile running style that can keep her out of trouble and, hopefully, away from the fence. The inner turf rail is being moved from 22 feet out to seven feet out for Saturday’s races, and every time the rail has come in this meet, inside paths have proved to be wetter and worse than the outside lanes.

Category Seven finished second in the 2011 Bayou, but finished a dull 10th in the Jersey Lily on Feb. 4 at Sam Houston in her first start at age 7. Bet on the Blue has a decent late kick and earlier this meet finished a closing third in the Blushing K.D. Stakes, but Artemus Kitten appears to have the best chance at an upset. She was a troubled second last out in the Jersey Lily and in her previous start finished with a rush to capture a first-level allowance race on the Fair Grounds turf.

Red Camelia: ‘Polka Dot’ is tough

Only two of Little Polka Dot’s 22 races have come around two turns on turf, but the mare sure looked like a middle-distance grass horse scoring a sharp allowance race victory on March 1 at Fair Grounds. The horse she beat that day, Skipping Stone, looks like her major competition in Saturday’s $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes, and that should make Little Polka Dot a short-priced favorite in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Eight Louisiana-breds were entered in the Red Camelia, but the list of viable contenders appears short – perhaps as small as one. Often on the lead in her main-track tries, Little Polka Dot settled nicely in third in her March 1 start and pulled away from Skipping Stone in the stretch when asked for her best by Rosie Napravnik. A similar result seems likely Saturday.

Distance suits Sunday’s Child

Sunday’s Child’s two-turn debut March 3 produced a narrow win in the Sarah Lane’s Oates Stakes, but the Sarah Lane’s Oates was a grass race and Sunday’s Child might well prefer dirt, and if that’s the case, she will take much beating in the $75,000 Crescent City Oaks.

An Any Given Saturday filly owned by the Brittlyn Stables and trained by Al Stall, Sunday’s Child won her career debut during this meet’s opening week, but she could only finish an even third three weeks later in the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie. But both those starts were sprints, and longer races might prove to better suit Sunday’s Child, who has posted two more workouts since her Sarah Lane’s Oates victory.