02/19/2010 12:00AM

Friesan Fire could get away easy

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NEW ORLEANS - on Jan. 23 essentially ended about 24.60 seconds after it began. That was the posted first quarter-mile split in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race, and out on the track, Friesan Fire was loping along by his lonesome. Friesan Fire kept clicking off 12-second furlongs. Not even a game General Quarters got close to him.

From the feel of things, the same scenario could play out in the Grade 3, $100,000 Mineshaft Handicap here at Fair Grounds on Saturday.

Six were entered in the Mineshaft, and, at most, five will start, with Country Flavor's connections choosing an allowance race instead. Giant Oak was cross-entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap but runs there only if rain forces the race from turf to dirt.

Good and Lucky, third in the Louisiana, has been nowhere near the early pace in more than a year, and Giant Oak, who makes his first start in 2010, hasn't come close to the front end his entire career. That leaves rail-drawn General Quarters and Stonehouse as the only horses to keep Friesan Fire honest, and neither of their trainers seems keen to send.

"That's a long way to have to lead," Tom McCarthy, General Quarters's trainer and owner, said earlier this week. "I'd rather come from out of it."

"I don't want him on the lead," Stonehouse's trainer Spanky Broussard said Tuesday morning. "When he ran badly last time" - finishing fifth in the Dec. 20 Tenacious here - "he was on the lead."

Steve Asmussen, Friesan Fire's trainer, said he wasn't concerned about Friesan Fire's trip.

"I just want him to run well again," he said.

Friesan Fire ran very well last time and has earned four of his five victories at Fair Grounds. His flat Dec. 3 comeback race from an extended layoff seems distant now, and Friesan Fire ranks as the leading local contender for the New Orleans Handicap.

Still, General Quarters has a chance to close in on Friesan Fire this time. General Quarters, like Friesan Fire, had surgery after the Preakness and didn't race between then and December. But Friesan Fire made his comeback 23 days before General Quarters and did so in a two-turn race; General Quarters returned in a six-furlong sprint. General Quarters should have more room to improve in the Mineshaft and has been thriving in New Orleans.

"He really gets over this surface well," McCarthy said. "He comes off this track really playful, and he's so full of himself."