02/12/2010 1:00AM

Things looking up in Stewart barn

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Barbara D. Livingston
Macho Again is nearing a return to training for Dallas Stewart.

NEW ORLEANS - It has been a subpar Fair Grounds meet for trainer Dallas Stewart, with two wins from 43 starts, but with some of his stable's best horses pointed toward a return, and his young colts and fillies progressing in their development, he isn't one to complain.

"We have a lot of young horses, and its been a little bit of a struggle, but that's the way this business is," Stewart said. "I'd like to have won more, but trainers will always say that."

Stewart's two most accomplished horses, Macho Again and Silverfoot, are back in training, and Stewart is upbeat about their chances and his stable in general.

Silverfoot has put in a series of works over the Fair Grounds main track and is on target for the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap next Saturday.

"He's really training well, and he didn't have a whole lot of time off," Stewart said. "We've moved him along, and he has responded to it."

Now 10, Silverfoot ran three times in 2009, winning the $50,000 The Tin Man at Arlington after being off for nine months. In his two races after that, Silverfoot finished sixth in Grade 3 races, the Arlington Handicap and the Stars and Stripes Handicap.

Silverfoot has won 11 of 37 starts and $945,000. The 1 1/8 miles of the Fair Grounds Handicap suits his running style.

"He really likes to go long and on the turf, so we are starting him there," Stewart said.

Macho Again won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap and the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap last year and was second by a head to Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward. His return to training is imminent.

"I am happy with his energy level and happy he's put on weight," Stewart said. "He'll start back breezing very soon.

"Our end goal is the Breeder's Cup Classic, so we'll have to see where he starts. The Alysheba is a probable starting place."

The Grade 3, $150,000 Alysheba is a 1 1/16-mile race at Churchill Downs on April 30.

Average daily handle still falling

The pace of decline slowed from the first two months of the racing season, but Fair Grounds still experienced a 16 percent average daily handle drop in January compared to the same month the previous year.

All-sources average daily handle in January was $3,075,997, compared to $3,666,591 in January 2009. Average daily ontrack handle was down 20 percent, while out-of-state handle on Fair Grounds races fell 15 percent. Fair Grounds raced 19 days this January and 23 days during January 2009.

The January drop was roughly half the decline recorded during November and December. The erosion of betting was one factor in Fair Grounds reducing purses during January.

Betting from the beginning of the meet through the end of January was down 25 percent compared to the 2008-2009 season. There were 50 racing days both seasons during November, December, and January, but last meet's total handle for the first three months was $194,027,839 (for a daily average of $3,880,556) compared to $145,645,444 (daily average of $2,912,908) this meet.

Second night card on tap Friday

Fair Grounds will run the second of three planned nights of racing next Friday.

Fair Grounds will reconfigure the clubhouse and apron to offer a club-themed experience. A band will play in the fourth-floor clubhouse, there will be a DJ in the Miller Beer Garden, and food will be provided by noted local restaurants.

First post is scheduled for 5 p.m.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh