01/01/2010 12:00AM

Pierce's concern is soft turf

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Year after year, trainer Malcolm Pierce puts together Fair Grounds meets that range from solid to excellent. Pierce has started somewhat slowly this season, winning three times from his first 19 Fair Grounds starters, but don't expect his barn to go quietly into the rest of the meeting.

Team Pierce, in fact, will be favored to win the $60,000 Furl Sail Handicap, the featured eighth race on Saturday in New Orleans. Much Obliged never has tasted defeat after three starts over the Fair Grounds grass course, and she beat a field similar to what she faces in the Furl Sail when winning the Blushing K.D. Handicap on opening day of the meet.

Pierce sounded less than concerned when asked about his slowish start to the 2009 -2010 Fair Grounds season.

"We had a fantastic year, and we were just winding down," Pierce said. "I think the weather has a lot do with running less horses and scratching, too."

Yes, December hardly could have been wetter, and if Pierce has a concern over Much Obliged in the Furl Sail, it's course conditions. Much Obliged is the 123-pound highweight in the 1 1/16-mile Furl Sail, and spots her 11 rivals between four and 10 pounds.

"She's been training very, very well, but the concern is if the turf is soft, with her giving away weight," said Pierce.

Much Obliged, a Grade 3 winner, won the Blushing K.D. by a half-length, but raced six wide while rallying into a slow pace. Jockey Francisco Torres, who has the mount again Saturday, was riding the filly for the first time, and "might have left her with a little more to do than she needed against those horses," Pierce said.

Much Obliged has a better draw this time than last, but she may once again find herself in a relatively paceless race. Back to challenge are the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers from the Blushing K.D. - Never Retreat, Category Seven, and Final Refrain. A new player to watch is Dancin Perfect, who won an allowance race Nov. 13, and ran well to finish second in the Pago Hop on Dec. 5.

Much Obliged will be scratched if the Furl Sail is rained off turf, and on dirt, the race could come down to Bubbler and Distinctive Dixie. Bubbler has started her career with three wins, and made the jump from entry-level allowance to $100,000 stakes winning at Sam Houston last month. Distinctive Dixie was a sharp allowance winner last season in her lone Fair Grounds dirt try.