03/13/2009 11:00PM

Macho Again rewards Stewart with Handicap win

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NEW ORLEANS - This Fair Grounds meet has been a long, hard slog for trainer Dallas Stewart. His barn was subject to a quarantine at the beginning of the meet, and winners have been hard to come by in subsequent months. He was just 3 for 60 going into Saturday's card. But the meet got a little brighter on a gloomy, rainy day on Saturday, when Macho Again stormed down the center of the track to capture the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap.

Macho Again ($23.60), ridden by Robby Albarado, needed nearly the full length of the long Fair Grounds stretch to reel in Secret Getaway, who had set the pace through lively fractions of 23.10 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.76 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:11.35 for six furlongs over the sloppy track. Secret Getaway put away a challenge from It's a Bird in upper stretch, but Macho Again rallied from 10th in the 11-horse field to prevail in 1:50.21 for 1 1/8 miles.

Macho Again won by one length, with Secret Getaway 2 1/4 lengths in front of It's a Bird. Dry Martini finished fourth. Honest Man, sent off the 2-1 favorite following his win in last month's Mineshaft Handicap, threatened while four paths wide on the far turn, but then flattened out in the stretch and faded to eighth.

"He didn't feel well in the mud," said Gabriel Saez, who rode Honest Man. "He was slipping."

The victory for Macho Again, 4, was his fifth in 16 lifetime starts, and his first since last summer's Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. He had finished seventh of 12 in the Mineshaft, but Stewart warned earlier in the week that Macho Again was coming up to a big effort.

"It would be great to win the big one," he said. "It'll give us some shipping money."

Macho Again is owned by a West Point Thoroughbreds partnership.

Muniz Handicap: Proudinsky wins photo

You barely could have slid a piece of paper between the noses of the first three finishers in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap at Fair Grounds. The nose that got there first was a familiar one, that of Proudinsky, who won the Muniz for the second year in a row.

He did so despite breaking from post 14 and racing at least three paths off the rail around both turns of the 1 1/8-mile grass race. Pacesetting 17-1 shot El Caballo stayed on all the way to the wire, but just was nipped by Proudinsky, who finished outside El Caballo and inside late-running Nownownow in the blanket three-horse photo.

"I wasn't sure I won," said winning rider Victor Espinoza. "I thought I got it in the last jump, but I wasn't sure. I saved as much as I could turning for home. I got lucky."

Proudinsky was making his first start since he won the Dec. 28 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita. With his success in the race last year, trainer Bobby Frankel had Proudinsky pointed to the Muniz most of the winter, and he did not miss his mark, despite breaking from such an unfavorable wide post.

"As a matter of fact, I kind of liked [the post]," said Espinoza. "The way he runs, it can be a little bit difficult."

Racing on a wet turf course rated "good," Proudinsky tracked El Caballo's slow pace of 24.47 seconds to the quarter and 49.19 to the half. The pressing French Beret gave way before the stretch, at which point Proudinsky engaged El Caballo. It took the length of the stretch, but he eventually got past - by the slimmest of margins. Proudinsky paid $8.80 to win, and was timed in 1:50.85.

Nownownow rallied well in the stretch and just missed winning. Favored Soldier's Dancer moved belatedly and finished fourth, with old-timer Brass Hat home sixth.

Kenner: Sok Sok unbeaten locally

Sok Sok ran his record to a perfect 3 for t3over the Fair Grounds, as he used a powerful move in the stretch to win the $125,000 Duncan Kenner, the last of six stakes races on the card.

With a well-timed charge down the lane, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan guided Sok Sok past early pace-setter Lanzera, and held off a late charge from Kodiak Kowboy, who finished a length and three quarters behind the winner.

Garifine held on for third, while Lanzera stayed on to finish fourth.

Sok Sok went the six furlongs in 1:09.79 over a main track rated as sloppy, and paid $8.60 to win

With the victory, Sok Sok has won 3 of his last 4, and all of his races over the Fair Grounds main track. He earned $75,000 for victory, taking his bankroll past $300,000 for his connections, trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Savorthetime Stables.

It was the only stakes win of the day for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Sok Sok was rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions. For Kodiak Kowboy, coming off 3 1/2 months on the shelf, it was a decent beginning to his 4-year-old campaign,

Co-favorite Ikigai, who looked to be the most speedy on paper, never showed up, finishing last in eight horse field.

Bienville: Coy Cat earns a stakes win

Coy Cat, ridden by Robby Albarado, took down her first stakes win, coming from off the pace to win $75,000 Bienville Stakes by a length.

Over the good turf course, Coy Cat covered the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.37 and paid $11 to win.

Coy Cat is trained by Paul McGee, who indicated she would be pointed toward the April 18 Giant's Causeway at 5 1/2 furlongs over the Keeneland turf.

additional reporting by Abram Himelstein, Marcus Hersh