03/16/2009 12:00AM

Post a serious plus for Friesan Fire


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When handicapping the effect of post position on a horse's chances, it is relatively easy to get caught in narrow-minded thinking. A wide draw in a route with a short run to the turn is deemed a disadvantage, for example. Or another crowd favorite - that drawing the fence in a sprint forces a speed horse to be sent.

But to see post position as that black and white ignores the big picture - that the effect of post position is situational. True, there are often times when a wide draw will force a horse wide in a route, costing him ground and positioning. But there are also times when the running style of the horse negates the perceived effect of post position.

It is precisely that latter scenario that one should envision with Friesan Fire in Saturday's Louisiana Derby. Although he drew post 9 in the 10-horse field, his wide draw, given his style and the makeup of the race, seems more likely to play to his strength than lessen his effectiveness.

Friesan Fire is a naturally speedy horse, but one who can be too aggressive at times. Jockey Gabriel Saez has solved this issue with the colt in his last two starts, the Lecomte and Risen Star stakes, by taking hold of him early and tucking him behind horses.

Reserved behind runners and shown a target, he has relaxed. Then, once shown daylight, he has responded, surging to victory in each race.

In looking over the Louisiana Derby field, I anticipate him getting the same trip. Most of the field is made up of stalkers and closers, but there are two legitimate speed horses in the field in Flying Pegasus and Papa Clem, who should give him the targets he craves.

Drawn outside those two, Saez should find getting Friesan Fire to relax off those two a bit easier. And unlike in the Risen Star, when Friesan Fire was boxed in until the top of the lane, he should have little trouble staying in the clear - giving him the opportunity to get the jump on the late-closing opposition.

That is, if he can get past the leaders. But for those who have witnessed his explosive moves to take command in his last two races, that seems a probable scenario.

New Orleans Handicap

A couple of races earlier at Fair Grounds, It's a Bird has a contrasting draw in the New Orleans Handicap, breaking from the fence.

In this case, the inside post should work to his benefit, particularly in a large field. Jockey Julien Leparoux, riding a versatile horse in It's a Bird, should be able to save ground with his mount, placing him in perfect stalking position behind the leaders.

A much-improved horse since joining the barn of trainer Marty Wolfson, It's a Bird commands respect off a Sunshine Millions Classic victory in which he whipped Dry Martini and Delightful Kiss by 5 1/4 lengths. His win in that $1 million race earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 107.

The manner in which he won was equally as striking. The horse looked the part of a winner from the time he passed the stands the first time, mildly tugging at Leparoux, ready to eat up the opposition.

Adding to the appeal of It's a Bird is that Wolfson confidently ships him to Fair Grounds for the New Orleans Handicap from his Calder base. Wolfson is among the best trainers in the country when it comes to shipping a horse in to run in a graded stakes race. According to Daily Racing Form's Formulator software, he is 11 for 41 (27 percent winners) over the past five years in shipping horses out of his home state of Florida to race in graded stakes elsewhere.

Among the highlights: Miesque's Approval score in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Mile, Pampered Princess's win in the Grade 1 Spinister at Keeneland in 2005, and Pomeroy's victory in the Grade 1 Forego in 2006.


Turning north to Aqueduct on Saturday for the Grade 3 Cicada, a favorable betting opportunity exists on Heart Ashley, a Fair Grounds invader.

Matched against horses who have remained in the Northeast throughout the winter, she looks ready to win, despite having lesser speed figures than some of the opposition. She kept quality allowance company in New Orleans through the winter, finishing second to the talented On the Menu and following that up with a fast allowance win there Feb. 9.

Although I respect Dream Play - winner of the Dearly Precious Stakes by 8 1/4 lengths - she should regress after improving 22 points off her previous high Beyer Figure.

If so, Heart Ashley looks primed to capitalize.