03/23/2005 1:00AM

Last act devoted to restricted stakes

Louis Hodges Jr.
The Beter Man Can figures to be the odds-on favorite in the Sarah Lane's Oates Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS - The Fair Grounds meet lingers for one last weekend, but like a circus packing up to leave town, many racetrackers have already bid goodbye to their winter home in Louisiana, putting their horses on vans heading north to Kentucky and Canada, or heading west to Texas.

"A lot of people pull out right after the [March 19] Muniz," said trainer Neil Howard. "The last week is mostly races for Louisiana-breds, so if you don't have them in your barn there's not much reason to stick around."

But some will stay on, savoring the budding warmth of spring in New Orleans.

"I'm going to stay right to the end," said Dallas Stewart. "It's too cold up there. It snowed last week in Kentucky."

Steve Asmussen will take advantage of the Fair Grounds surface while he can.

"You're at the mercy of the elements this time of year," he pointed out. "They've lost several days of training up in Kentucky. If you can't work your horse, it could make a difference in preparing for a race like the Ashland."

The Fair Grounds meet closes out this weekend with several restricted stakes races.

The Beter Man Can has been the top Louisiana-bred filly at the meet, winning the Tiffany Lass against open company and crushing her opponents in several restricted events. She ran fourth to Summerly - whom Asmussen is pointing to the Ashland - in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes and will be the prohibitive favorite as the 123-pound highweight against statebreds in Saturday's feature race, the $100,000 Sarah Lane's Oates Handicap at a mile on the grass.

Her ability against Louisiana-breds has been established, but will The Beter Man Can carry her class over to the turf?

"She's a Lord Avie," said trainer Patrick Mouton, citing the Beter Man Can's sire who is known for producing good grass horses. "She should like the turf, and she's training real well."

The Beter Man Can worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds last Saturday.

If The Beter Man Can comes out of the race in good order, she may try open company in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 15.

Her major rival appears to be Blueyed Lass, a talented Gary Palmisano-trained filly who is 2 for 2, including a victory on the grass.

Destiny Calls seeks repeat in Red Camelia

Destiny Calls will try to win the $100,000 Red Camelia Handicap for the second year in a row on Sunday. The one-mile turf stakes is restricted to Louisiana-bred fillies and mares.

Destiny Calls has been the star of the Palmisano stable. A multiple stakes winner who has drummed Louisiana-breds on both turf and dirt, Destiny Calls has 11 victories in 15 starts in restricted company. The 5-year-old Destiny Calls has won three races on the grass here, including last year's Red Camelia.

"I would love to win it again," said Palmisano. "She's been such a good, honest horse."

Destiny Calls, the highweight in the Red Camelia, will carry 123 pounds, including jockey Robby Albarado. Her main rival appears to be the speedy Vitamin Bag, who is likely to test Destiny Calls on the front end. Vitamin Bag will carry 118 pounds.

Okaya threat on either surface

Okaya, the runaway winner of a $35,000 allowance here on March 7, returns in Friday's feature race, a 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer for fillies and mares on the turf. The threat of rain is no deterrent, since Okaya handled a sloppy track last out in a race that was washed off the grass.

Three others in the Friday feature - Twice a Deelite, Nicki's Wish, and Stonington - finished two-three-four in a six-furlong optional claimer on the dirt Feb. 18.

* Native Malagra headlines Sunday's $20,000 Magnolia State Handicap, restricted to horses owned by members of the South Mississippi Breeders Association. The Ronnie Ward-trained Native Malagra has won three consecutive starts against Louisiana-breds by a combined 16 1/4 lengths and will be the 122-pound highweight.