02/25/2011 4:20PM

McGee's once-cold stable begins to heat up

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Hodges Photography/Lynn Roberts
Demarcation (left), winning the Mineshaft, could make his next start in the New Orleans Handicap, according to trainer Paul McGee.

Trainer Paul McGee has kept at least a handful of horses at Fair Grounds over the winter for more than a half-decade, but this year McGee is wintering his entire string in New Orleans for the first time. And for the first couple months of the Fair Grounds season, that wasn’t working very well.

“I shipped down here from Churchill and everything was running horrible, last or second-to-last,” McGee said. “I was kind of pulling my hair out. I just kind of backed off everything for a while, didn’t enter anything, only ran a handful of horses for a week or two. I don’t know if I ran too quickly after shipping down, or what. I never could put my finger on anything.”

Whatever the reason, McGee’s stable sprang to life in February, and since the first of the month, McGee has 5 wins and 4 thirds from just 13 starters after going 1 for 20 to start the 2010-2011 meet.

“It’s cyclical,” said McGee, who split his stable between Fair Grounds and Oaklawn last year before consolidating this winter. “I was in a down cycle, and now I’m up.”

McGee’s biggest February winner was the underappreciated Demarcation, who took advantage of a fast, contested pace in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 19 to rally from last for a win. Demarcation exited that victory in good physical condition, his trainer said, and probably will make his next start in the New Orleans Handicap on March 26, though McGee said Demarcation also would be nominated to the Mervin Muniz, a grass race on the same program.

That’s the kind of flexibility Demarcation affords his connections. A 7-year-old by Gulch owned by Amerman Racing, Demarcation has now won 10 times from 37 starts, and has finished third or better in 23 of those appearances. He has a win over Polytrack, three victories and a slew of third in turf starts, and has excelled on both fast and wet dirt racetracks.

“He runs well on everything,” said McGee, who also sent out Dubious Miss to a close third-place finish in the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 19. McGee reported that his promising 3-year-old filly, She’s Picky, “spiked a fever the other day,” costing her a few days training. She’s Picky impressively won a two-turn maiden race on Feb. 14, two days after the colt Majestic Harbor was a sharp maiden-route winner. Majestic Harbor was scheduled to work on Saturday, and will be entered main-track-only in the Grindstone Stakes on March 5, McGee said. The way things have recently been going for this outfit, expect a rain-off.