01/22/2010 12:00AM

Friesan Fire aims a little lower


NEW ORLEANS - A couple of months ago, Friesan Fire's connections were hoping to target the prestigious Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, but the combination of a wet, cold winter at Fair Grounds and a somewhat disappointing comeback race has landed Friesan Fire in the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap on Saturday instead.

Friesan Fire won all three Fair Grounds route stakes for 3-year-olds in 2009, and was the 7-2 Kentucky Derby favorite on the strength of his Louisiana Derby victory. But little has gone right for Friesan Fire since the Louisiana Derby last March 14: a brutal trip and an 18th-place finish in the Derby, a flat 10th-place finish in the Preakness, surgery to repair injured legs, and a long layoff. Friesan Fire began anew in the barn of Steve Asmussen last fall, and finished third, beaten six lengths, in an allowance race Dec. 3.

"He came up empty," Asmussen said from his pony Wednesday morning, moments before Friesan Fire whizzed past at the end of a half-mile workout. "He got wound up before the race, and he was pretty flat."

Asmussen has since put five workouts into Friesan Fire, a large horse who needs a lot of conditioning. Friesan Fire also will race in blinkers again Saturday after running without the hood in his comeback race. "They seem to give him comfort," Asmussen said.

Asmussen said he expects Friesan Fire to run much better Saturday, but it will take more than a mild rebound to win the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana. Also in the seven-horse field is General Quarters, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass last spring, and two capable older handicappers, Good and Lucky and Secret Getaway.

General Quarters also ran below form in the Derby and Preakness, and, like Friesan Fire, had surgery after the second leg of the Triple Crown. General Quarters finished second in his first start back, a third-level Fair Grounds allowance Dec. 26, but sprinted six furlongs that day, and may still be a race away from his best. General Quarters has post 1, and with a lack of early speed in the Louisiana, could wind up in front.

"I'd prefer not to see him on the lead," said owner-trainer Tom McCarthy. "But if no one else goes. . . ."

Good and Lucky already has won twice this Fair Grounds meet, beating Friesan Fire on Dec. 3 and Secret Getaway on Dec. 20. But Secret Getaway, second in the 2009 New Orleans Handicap, was making his first start in six months, and should improve Saturday.

"I think he's a stronger, happier horse than he was last year," said trainer Mike Stidham.