02/29/2008 12:00AM

Proud Spell set for third shot at Indian Blessing

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NEW ORLEANS - Proud Spell continues to prepare for the Fair Ground Oaks, which will be her third try to defeat Indian Blessing, who has dealt her the only two losses of her career.

Beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Indian Blessing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she got closer in the Silverbulletday, finishing second, a length in back.

"We feel like we can ask her to try a little harder," said Proud Spell's trainer, Larry Jones. "Maybe we'll put the pressure on Indian Blessing a little sooner, unless someone else would like to volunteer for the job."

Proud Spell turned in a solid workout on Wednesday morning, covering four furlongs in 48.20 seconds, the second-fastest time of the morning.

The third- and fourth-place finishers of the Silverbulletday, Highest Class and Jolie the Cat, also will return in the Fair Ground Oaks, which is shaping up to have a field of four or five.

Honest Man bouncing back

The Jones-trained Honest Man looks to have recovered from his trouncing in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston on Jan. 26. He put in the fastest four-furlong work here on Wednesday, going in 46.80. Honest Man, 4, went off as the favorite at Houston, set the pace, then faltered and finished fifth.

"He came out of that race really body sore," said Jones. "I don't know if he didn't like the track or the older horses made him mad."

Jones said that he will try to find an allowance race for Honest Man before the Fair Grounds meet ends March 23.

Muniz Handicap attracts Daytona

Daytona, who shipped from California and won the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 9, is coming back to Fair Grounds for the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap next Saturday, trainer Dan Hendricks confirmed Friday. But Einstein, who won the Muniz last year and is fresh off a gritty victory in the Feb. 23 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, probably will not make the trip.

Daytona was withdrawn from a sale Monday after he won the Fair Grounds Handicap, and had been considered for the Dubai Duty Free on the Dubai World Cup undercard on March 29. But the Southern California-based Hendricks said he is keeping an eye on the Breeders' Cup, which is at Santa Anita this year, in deciding to ship Daytona back to Fair Grounds rather than halfway round the world.

"He's a maturing horse coming into his own right now," said Hendricks. "We didn't want to knock him out the first three months of the year."

Daytona had a six-furlong turf breeze on Thursday at Santa Anita and ships to New Orleans on Tuesday. He will find a strong field awaiting him in the Muniz, even if Einstein does pass the race. The list of probable starters also includes Brilliant, Buffalo Man, Elusive Fort, the European import Fracas, French Beret, Jazz Quest, Proudinsky, and Twilight Meteor.

The $500,000 New Orleans Handicap, also Saturday, is expected to be headed by local standout Grasshopper. Fair Grounds racing officials said Brass Hat, Circular Quay, Diamond Stripes, Encaustic, and Silver Lord also are likely to run, with Going Ballistic a possible starter.

Louisiana Derby longshot reasoning

My Pal Charlie and Unbridled Vicar will be among the longest of shots Saturday in the Louisiana Derby, where they will face the likes of Pyro, Majestic Warrior, Tale of Ekati, J Be K, and Blackberry Road.

Two races ago, My Pal Charlie was running in a maiden claiming race, but trainer Al Stall believes he deserves a chance.

"His recent improvement is why he's in this race," said Stall. "All of a sudden he's gotten into the bridle quite a bit, trying to run hard."

My Pal Charlie was unclaimed when he won a $50,000 maiden claiming race Jan. 26. He returned to win a one-mile allowance by 1 1/2 lengths Feb. 14.

"He's run two turns on the dirt, and a stakes race was the next thing for him," said Stall. "Maybe I'm lazy but I didn't want to look any further than our backyard."

If My Pal Charlie is running based on marked improvement of late, Unbridled Vicar is running based on the strength of the competition he has faced. Although he's won only one race, he has finished just behind some of the better horses of his generation, including a head loss to Southwest Stakes winner Dennis of Cork. He also finished fourth in the Risen Star, 3 1/4 lengths behind Pyro. The Risen Star is his only out-of-the-money finish.

"Every horse he's lost to has been a good horse," trainer Greg Geier said. "He deserves a chance to see what he can do."

Unbridled Vicar breezed five furlongs in 1:03.80 on Feb. 24, and was scheduled to work again Sunday.

"My little horse likes it here, he's trained good here," said Geier. "Eventually you're going to have to run against the better horses, might as well see how he'll do."

Secret Gypsy back on track

Secret Gypsy, who set a Saratoga track record for 5 1/2 furlongs winning her career debut last summer, has had three workouts at Fair Grounds as she prepares for her first start since her brilliant performance on Aug. 16.

Secret Gypsy, who cost a mere $10,000 at a 2-year-old auction last spring, cracked a cannon bone in a workout after her 6 1/4-length Saratoga maiden win. The injury required surgery and the insertion of a screw to stabilize the bone, but Secret Gypsy came back to trainer Ronny Werner's barn late last year, and has not showed any sign of trouble because of the injury.

"We've been putting some slow works in her, keeping her throttled down," said Werner, who could look for a comeback spot for Secret Gypsy near the end of the Fair Grounds meet, or at Keeneland in April. Werner said that the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs is the main springtime goal for Secret Gypsy.

* Fair Gounds jockey Robby Albarado returned from Dubai on Friday, and went immediately to Carencro, La., for the funeral of his sister Bobbie Jo Mahagan, who died on Tuesday at the age of 32. She is survived by her husband and two sons, along with her mother, brother and sister, among many others.

Albarado rode Curlin to victory Thursday at Nad Al Sheba in his 2008 debut.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh