11/21/2007 1:00AM

Time for Etbauer likes the lead

EmailNEW ORLEANS - There are two coupled entries and horses with last-start running lines at five different racetracks - but no one ever said the featured ninth race on Friday at Fair Grounds was going to be easy.

Carded at six furlongs for second-level allowance horses or $35,000 claimers, the featured ninth drew a field of nine, but fewer will start. The trainer Cody Autrey said that half of his entry, I've Been Humbled, was instead racing in a Churchill Downs claimer instead of here at Fair Grounds. And the trainer Troy Young said Wednesday that Bienhereux also would be scratched. That would leave a field of seven, provided trainer Merrill Scherer actually goes with both halves of his entry of Classic Tiara and Queen of the Ridge.

The short field is exactly why Time for Etbauer is starting here rather than Churchill, Autrey said Wednesday.

"At Churchill, it was a big field, and then there's more chance of one or two other horses going to the front," Autrey said. "Here, she's more apt to get to the lead."

And the lead is where Time for Etbauer is most comfortable, though she did win a last-start $40,000 Churchill claimer from just off the pace. But with the rail and clearly the best early speed in Friday's race, Time for Etbauer - who starts for the $35,000 claiming price here - is likely to play a game of try-and-catch-me under jockey Miguel Mena.

Time for Etbauer has won before on the Fair Grounds track, capturing two straight races here last spring, the first at 5 1/2 furlongs, the second at Friday's six-furlong trip. Still, the long Fair Grounds stretch could leave Time for Etbauer vulnerable in the late going, the question being who might catch her.

Both of Scherer's horses come from off the pace, but Classic Tiara looks stronger. She won over this track last year, and was just second going seven furlongs on Keeneland Polytrack. While Classic Tiara has won at six furlongs, a slightly longer trip probably would be best, but she still might get up in time Friday.

Same goes for Limitless, who turned back from a pair of route races to finish a closing third of eight last out at Louisiana Downs.

"She caught a fast horse on a fast racetrack last time," said trainer Al Stall. "We figured we'd get her to Fair Grounds with the long stretch and all that."