02/25/2010 1:00AM

Tizaqueena, rain or shine


In the midst of a cold, wet New Orleans winter, a rare occurrence: Turf races at Fair Grounds were not rained onto dirt even one day last racing week. Two weeks in a row? That's pushing it. The local forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain Friday night, and the Saturday feature, the $60,000 Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap, carded for older females at 1 1/16 miles on grass, could wind up being moved to the main track.

Still, the horse to beat is the same regardless of racing surface: Tizaqueena.

Five-year-old Tizaqueena showed talent from the beginning, but because of injury she made only three total starts during 2007 and 2008. Tizaqueena stayed sound through 2009 and had a breakout season, winning 3 of her 8 starts, and finishing worse than third only once. She won the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, and finished a close second last October in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland.

Shipped to California for her 2009 finale, Tizaqueena was 10th in the Las Palmas Stakes at Santa Anita on Nov. 6 after breaking from post 13 and chasing splits quicker than those she grew accustomed to last year. Back at Fair Grounds, where she has won 4 times in 5 starts, Tizaqueena began breezing again on Jan. 1, and she has worked six times for the Lacombe.

"She only had a few weeks where we just went light with her, walked her, and then we started back jogging," said Mike Stidham, who trains Tizaqueena for the Darley Stable. "She's training very well."

Tizaqueena has scored her most important victories on turf, but also has two wins and a second from three dirt starts, all at Fair Grounds, and Stidham said he would give serious consideration to staying in the Lacombe even if the race is rained onto the main track.

A rain-off, or even a wet course, is bad news for the two Lacombe entrants trained by Mike Burgess: Dancin Perfect exits a Fair Grounds grass allowance race score, while Love to Tell thrashed 12 foes on Jan. 30 in the $50,000 Jersey Lily Stakes at Sam Houston.

"If the rain holds off and the turf is firm, I think both of them have a shot," Burgess said. "The problem I have with both those fillies, they just really don't like the soft turf."

Turf or dirt, the Lacombe should have an honest pace. Tizaqueena likes to lay close to the lead, while No Use Denying and More of the Best do most of their work on the front end.