03/24/2010 12:00AM

Tizaqueena the big favorite in Bayou


NEW ORLEANS - With a comeback victory to her name and a return to her favorite surface, Tizaqueena looks poised to dominate the $100,000 Bayou Handicap, the best of the three stakes on Friday's Fair Grounds Oaks undercard.

Carded as the eighth, the Bayou Handicap has drawn a field of nine fillies and mares to go 1 1/8 miles over the Fair Grounds turf, with Tizaqueena spotting all of her rivals at least four pounds.

Tizaqueena's victory in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on Derby Day last year at Churchill Downs and a game second in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland, give her a class edge that would merit respect even if she weren't at the top of her game.

Unfortunately for the competition, trainer Mike Stidham believes Tizaqueena is poised to run big, entering off a win in her first race back and two solid works.

In the LaCombe Memorial, she came off three months' rest looking like her old self, stalking the pace en route to a three-quarter-length win Feb. 27, in a race that was moved off the turf and onto the Fair Grounds main track.

"I think she got just what she needed out of that first race, a good little confidence builder," Stidham said. "Now she's back on the grass, and we're happy to be there."

Since her win in the LaCombe, Stidham has given her two works, and he feels she's ready to run her Fair Grounds turf record to 3 for 3.

"As far as the horse goes, I couldn't be any happier," Stidham said. "Her work was excellent, and she's ready to go."

While Fair Grounds has been kind to Tizaqueena, the same cannot be said for Never Retreat, who has had three tough-luck second places here this winter.

In her first race over the Fair Grounds turf, the Blushing K. D. Handicap, she was beaten a half-length after making the lead in the stretch. In the Furl Sail, she was first by a neck but disqualified to second for brushing Category Seven. And in her most recent race, the Marie Krantz, she came up just short, losing by a nose after dueling through the stretch.

"She's been totally unlucky this whole meet," trainer Richie Scherer said. "After those three tough races, we skipped the last one to get her rested for this race and for her summer campaign."

Bienville: West Ocean ships in

The $60,000 Bienville, carded as the sixth, begins the stakes part of the program and has drawn a field of 10 fillies and mares for the 5 1/2 furlongs over the Fair Grounds turf.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has sent West Ocean, who finished second in her last effort, beaten 2 3/4 lengths, in the Ladies Turf Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 21.

Among West Ocean's local competition is Northern Belle, who shipped to Oaklawn to win the American Beauty by a nose in the slop on Jan. 16. The Bienville will be Northern Belle's first try on turf, but trainer Steve Margolis has confidence in her turf ability.

"She's run on synthetic, in the mud, at tracks all over, and she tries hard every time," Margolis said. "I think she'll give a good account of herself over the grass, and she couldn't be doing any better coming into the race."

Crescent City Oaks: Shezacrazygirl is key

The $60,000 Crescent City Oaks, for Louisiana-bred fillies going a mile and 40 yards over the main track, will be shaped by trainer Al Stall's decision for Shezacrazygirl, who also is entered in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

If Shezacrazygirl goes forward in the Crescent City Oaks, the seventh race, she'll be the one to beat, coming in off a dominating victory in the Premier Night Starlet at Delta Downs.

"She's a sharp little horse who has gotten her act together," Stall said. "She is coming in great, and we like the way she's got a turn of foot around two turns."

If Stall sends her into open company, favoritism will likely fall to the Ladyzarbridge, who raced extremely wide to win the $60,000 Sarah Lane Oates on March 6.