01/08/2009 1:00AM

Honest Man might need a tightener


NEW ORLEANS - The trainer Larry Jones hopes Honest Man, who earned more than $319,000 in 2008 purses, can be some kind of factor in the national handicap division in 2009, and Jones figured the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap would be a comfortable spot to get things started.

"We were hoping at this level he wouldn't have to be 100 percent to win, but maybe he does," said Jones.

First, there is the sheer number of horses in the race Saturday at Fair Grounds, a surprising total of 12. But the one that a less-than-cranked-up Honest Man has most to worry about is Secret Getaway, who with continued progress could turn into a graded-stakes horse himself. And while Secret Getaway raced steadily through the summer and fall, Honest Man is entering after a layoff of four months, and with just three published works at Fair Grounds. Might he be a race away from his best?

"I'm sure that's true," Jones said in reply.

Honest Man ran through three allowance conditions last Fair Grounds meet, and scored his biggest win of the year in the Grade 3 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth, where he beat Grasshopper. His fourth-place finish in his most recent start, the Kentucky Cup Classic, was attributable to a dislike for Turfway's synthetic surface, Jones said.

Polytrack and turf; that was all Secret Getaway had raced on in 2008 until Nov. 29, when he won the Tenacious Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths in a good time over a slow-playing, sloppy track here. Secret Getaway had won Woodbine stakes on turf and Polytrack, but it may have been no coincidence that his top race came in his two-turn dirt debut. Since the Tenacious, Secret Getaway has kept to an excellent work pattern, and his breeze on Feb. 5 was slow, trainer Mike Stidham said, because of a very wet track.

"We waited a day to work him, and the track ended up being even worse than it had been on the day we waited," Stidham said.

With Secret Getaway coming off a career-best performance, Stidham said even more time between starts might have been ideal. "But the horse is doing well," he said.

Stonehouse should make the lead from the rail, and with Good and Lucky, Silver Lord, and Honest Man to his outside, the pace should be quick. Tend ran well winning a restricted stakes at Delta last out. Prom Shoes, in from Oaklawn Park, finished second in the 2008 edition of this race.