01/22/2010 1:00AM

Giant Oak has year's first breeze

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NEW ORLEANS - Giant Oak has returned from a winter freshening, and worked a half-mile in 50.40 seconds at Fair Grounds on Monday, his first breeze as a 4-year-old.

Giant Oak won just 1 of 9 starts in 2009, but earned more than $370,000 during the season. He had a tough-luck winter at Fair Grounds, finishing fifth in the Risen Star Stakes and fourth in the Louisiana Derby, and earned his lone win of the year on turf, in the Arlington Classic. But Giant Oak finished off his season with promise after being returned to dirt. He was a fast-closing second to Misremembered in the Indiana Derby, then rallied from 12th to finish a close fourth in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

"He'll work three or four times, and we'll run him in the Mineshaft as a prep for the New Orleans Handicap," said trainer Neil Pessin, who handled Giant Oak during his Fair Grounds winter last year.

Blame getting in gear

Four-year-old Blame, among the top horses stabled in New Orleans this winter, is approaching his first work of 2010, trainer Al Stall said this week.

Blame has been galloping steadily and is training well, Stall said, and should have his first work of the winter around Feb. 1.

"Everything's good," said Stall. "We have no plans yet. He could run sometime during this meet."

Blame won 4 of 6 starts last year at 3, and capped off his campaign with a second-place finish in the Super Derby and wins in the Grade 2 Fayette over Keeneland's Polytrack and the Grade 2 Clark over Churchill dirt.

Handleman heads feature

The nominal feature on Sunday's condensed nine-race card is race 7, an entry-level turf-sprint allowance. Fair Grounds plans to cut down the time between races on Sunday in order to complete its program before the New Orleans Saints start their NFL playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings late Sunday afternoon.

The feature drew a field of 11, and Handleman looks fairly solid regardless of whether the race stays on turf or is rained onto dirt. Handleman won his maiden on the Fair Grounds grass course Nov. 26, and finished second by a half-length in an entry-level allowance race on the main track Dec. 20.