03/02/2003 12:00AM

Mardi Gras a mad scramble

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NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans is one bustling city on Mardi Gras day. The parade routes are jammed, the French Quarter is a madhouse - and the Fair Grounds turf course will be packed with stakes horses.

A full field of 12 was entered for Tuesday's $75,000 Mardi Gras Handicap, a grass race contested at about 7 1/2 furlongs. With a short run to the first turn, this elongated sprint race could get as crazy as the local revelers if the big field stays intact.

Better to avoid the mess completely than worry about trips, which is what Royal Spy will have a chance to do. Royal Spy found the nine-furlong Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup on Feb. 1 too demanding a distance, finishing sixth, but the Mardi Gras is much more his style. Royal Spy, who breaks from a favorable inside post, led virtually all the way when he won the $75,000 Colonel Bradley here earlier in the meet.

"We really felt that going to a mile and an eighth was pushing this horse," trainer Tom Amoss said. "We always thought he was a very good miler, and the combination of the post and the distance should help him run more like he did his first race here."

But there are plenty of other options. Whata Brainstorm invades from Florida after racing in a Grade 1 his last start, and in his last trip to Fair Grounds he was a close fourth two seasons ago in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid.

Skate Away won the Woodchopper - an age restricted race - on this course three starts ago, and had a terrible trip when he was fifth, beaten about two lengths in the Feb. 15 Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston. Others coming out of the Connally are Green Fee, who faded to ninth as the 2-1 favorite, and Even the Score, who pressed a moderate early pace but had no rally and finished sixth.

Testify also raced on the Connally program, but he won the five-furlong Houston Turf Sprint Cup, and will try to stretch his speed around two turns for the first time in a couple seasons.

There has been a spate of rained-out turf races recently, and if this race is moved to the main track, it becomes a battle between Discreet Hero and Seainsky. Discreet Hero missed winning the Tenacious Handicap by a nose earlier in the meet, and will find the opposition here much softer than what he has faced in other recent stakes tries.