02/13/2009 12:00AM

Lightly raced El Caballo set to fire fresh

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NEW ORLEANS - El Caballo has been consistent for a 5-year-old who has only raced nine times.

After racing only once at 3, El Caballo had a solid 4-year-old campaign, racing 8 times, winning 3 and finishing second 4 times.

He won his last race, an allowance at Churchill Downs in November, and will be looking to step up again in Sunday's featured seventh race, a third-level optional $62,500 claiming route at 1 1/16 miles on the Fair Grounds turf.

His last two races were his first two on the turf, and his trainer, Ralph Nicks, said he believes the move to the grass definitely has worked to El Caballo's benefit.

"He has a chance to be a better horse on the grass," said Nicks. "His action is better on the turf."

With the move to the turf, El Caballo's long trajectory of improvement figures to continue. In his last race, El Caballo was impressive as he wired the field.

Nicks gave him a bit of a breather, then began to work him over the Fair Grounds main track in preparation for this race.

"At some point they need a little bit of a vacation," said Nicks. "But he's ready. He'll run well."

Nicks indicated that although he believes El Caballo is better on the grass, he will run even if the race comes off the turf.

If the race stays on the turf, his chief competitors look to be Jazz Quest and Trackerman.

Jazz Quest clearly needed his last race, his first after more than seven months on the sideline. He finished fourth at this same condition in that Jan. 25 race and was beaten only two lengths.

If Jazz Quest is back to his old form, he could be formidable. He finished second in last year's Fair Grounds Handicap, and has finished in the money 7 of 9 races over the turf here.

Trackerman took himself out of the race last time and was 10 lengths back at the top of the stretch.

"He was so far back he had no chance to make up ground on that pace," said trainer Malcolm Pierce. "If the pace is this slow again, I hope Miguel [Mena] has him closer."

If the predicted rain moves the race to the main track, Unbridled Vicar and Pinpoint will meet a short field. Unbridled Vicar has tested deeper waters, but has run best against allowance company.