03/12/2009 12:00AM

Honest Man needs the right trip in handicap


NEW ORLEANS - Howdy, neighbor.

In the barn that trainer Larry Jones has here at Fair Grounds, Friesan Fire and Honest Man have adjacent stalls. An hour apart on Saturday, they will head over to the frontside in the hope of bringing back two of the biggest prizes on Louisiana Derby Day.

Each is the morning-line favorite in his respective race. Yet as deep and competitive as the field Friesan Fire heads in the Louisiana Derby, the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap might be a better race. Including Honest Man, there are 14 older horses signed up to run 1 1/8 miles on the main track. Like in the Louisiana Derby, horses from California and Florida have arrived to take on the top local runners. And, just like the derby, the horse to beat hails from Barn 3.

Honest Man comes off a powerful 4 1/4-length victory in the Mineshaft Handicap, last month's prep for the New Orleans Handicap. It was a marked improvement from his first start of the year, a third-place finish in the Louisiana Handicap.

"He needed that first race. He was so fresh and he wasn't able to relax on the backside," Cindy Jones, the assistant trainer to her husband, said Thursday morning.

Last time, Honest Man stalked and then pounced. It is a strategy he likely will need to employ Saturday.

Honest Man drew post 10, so he will have to work out a trip. Of his primary rivals, It's a Bird drew best, landing the rail. My Pal Charlie is marooned on the far outside.

My Pal Charlie finished fourth in the Mineshaft, his first start in 3 1/2 months. His trainer, Al Stall Jr., believes My Pal Charlie will move forward off that effort, but he is concerned about the draw.

"He found himself on the lead last time and got a little empty late," Stall said. "He's been on schedule for the New Orleans Handicap. And then we got this post. The best-laid plans . . ."

Stall also sends out Star Guitar, who has won all five of his starts at this track and is 6 for 7 overall while exclusively facing Louisiana-breds. He is in post 13.

"He's the local hero," Stall said. "I think he's got a very good chance. And he'll be the best-looking horse in the paddock."

It's a Bird was a runaway winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24 in a freakishly good effort.

Good and Lucky beat Honest Man in the Louisiana Handicap, then was second in the Mineshaft. He has finished first or second in 6 of 7 starts at this track.

Macho Again was a distant seventh in the Sunshine Millions Classic, but this is his third start off a layoff, and, on his best day, he's capable, having won the Jim Dandy last summer at Saratoga.

"I think he just got tired in his last race, because he didn't get anything out of his first race back, on the grass here," said Dallas Stewart, Macho Again's trainer. "He's going to be right there."

Dry Martini, a distant second in the Sunshine Millions Classic, and Slew's Tiznow, who is fleeing the synthetic Santa Anita surface on which he regressed, also could be factors, along with the consistent Golden Yank.