03/17/2009 12:00AM

Macho Again gives boost to Stewart


The one-two finishers in the New Orleans Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds are marching staunchly forward into an uncertain future, with next-race plans still fluid for Macho Again, who rallied late to win the race, and Secret Getaway, who was nailed after setting a fast pace in a game effort.

Macho Again went a long way toward salvaging a difficult winter for trainer Dallas Stewart. Stewart's barn at Fair Grounds fell under quarantine late last year when a filly in his care was diagnosed with equine herpesvirus after falling ill and being shipped to Kentucky. The filly recovered, and no other horses trained by Stewart or anyone else at the track showed symptoms of the illness, but the disruption in the morning routine seemed to set back Stewart's operation, which entered last weekend with only three wins at the ongoing meet. Stewart won between 13 and 23 races at the last four Fair Grounds meets conducted in New Orleans.

But Fair Grounds win No. 4 was huge, with Macho Again closing from 10th in an 11-horse field under Robby Albarado to post a one-length victory, his first score since capturing the Jim Dandy at Saratoga last summer. The late-closing tactics reminded Stewart of his upset winner of the 2006 Kentucky Oaks, Lemons Forever.

"He was way back early," Stewart said. "When they were going around the first turn, I leaned over to my mom and said, 'This is going to have to be a Lemons Forever kind of race.' "

Macho Again topped the $1 million mark in career earnings with his win and exited the race in fine condition.

"His energy is good, he's eating good," Stewart said.

Nevertheless, Stewart has no plans to rush Macho Again back into action and ruled out a start in the Oaklawn Handicap. One option is the Alysheba Stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill - but that is only a possibility.

"Hopefully, we have a long year ahead of us," said Stewart, who trains Macho Again for West Point Thoroughbreds.

Secret Getaway, meanwhile, now has run two big races in the slop this meet, having won the Tenacious Handicap in November. Saturday, he set a fast pace under Kent Desormeaux, but after disposing of his pace rivals, Secret Getaway was unable to hold off Macho Again.

"It was great to see him run that good, but tough to lose that way," trainer Mike Stidham said.

Stidham did mention the Oaklawn Handicap as one possible spot for Secret Getaway and said the horse would remain on dirt.

Flying Spur impresses in Oaks defeat

A little lost in Rachel Alexandra's sharp odds-on victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks on Saturday was the fine performance turned in by runner-up Flying Spur. While Rachel Alexandra could have won by a greater margin had jockey Calvin Borel not started playing to the crowd in the last half-furlong, Flying Spur did come within 1 3/4 lengths of Rachel Alexandra. She finished 11 lengths clear of the show horse Saturday and appears to have turned a corner this winter in New Orleans.

By Giant's Causeway out of the excellent racemare Lakeway, Flying Spur debuted with a fifth-place finish in an off-the-turf maiden race last September at Belmont, then finished fourth and third in a pair of grass races there. But in a one-mile maiden race rained off turf Jan. 5 at Fair Grounds, Flying Spur won by more than two lengths in a fast time. Entered next in the Silverbulletday Stakes, she broke through the gate before the start and then stumbled badly when the race began, losing all chance to win but rallying well for fourth.

"I'm pleasantly surprised with her," trainer Bill Mott said. "She trained okay up till her maiden victory, but after she broke her maiden, her works have been really sharp. She's got some maturing to do. She needs to settle a little bit, but slowly that's coming together."

Mott said Flying Spur will soon ship to Kentucky, but her next race is undecided. She'll be nominated to both the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland as well as the Kentucky Oaks, but would be unlikely to wheel back in the Oaks if she indeed started in the Ashland, Mott said.

Blue Grass likely next for Giant Oak

After three months of training in New Orleans and two races at the Fair Grounds meet, trainer Chris Block still doesn't know just where Giant Oak slots into the national 3-year-old picture.

"I know nothing more about the horse than I did when I first went down to Fair Grounds," Block said Tuesday. "We don't know his talent level yet."

Giant Oak finished fifth in the Risen Star Stakes, his 3-year-old debut, after getting stopped badly at the half-mile pole. Saturday, he rallied wide and mildly to finish fourth in the Louisiana Derby after racing last of nine behind a slow pace. Jockey James Graham told Block that Giant Oak didn't hate the sloppy track Saturday, but said that he didn't seem comfortable in the wet going, either.

There's a good chance that Giant Oak will run back in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Block said. Giant Oak won his only start over Polytrack, albeit at Arlington, and worked well over the Keeneland main track last fall before shipping to Churchill Downs, where he finished second to Beethoven in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Block said Giant Oak would work at Fair Grounds before shipping and then breeze at Keeneland to determine his status for the April 11 Blue Grass.