11/27/2008 12:00AM

Windward Islands needs a setup


NEW ORLEANS - Friday's Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap revolves around two questions: Is there enough pace to set up the closing kick of Windward Islands? And who will be running if the expected two days of rain knock the event off the turf?

A field of seven is entered in the $60,000 Diliberto, a 1 1/16-mile race on turf.

Fair Grounds racing officials have given Windward Islands high weight of 121 pounds. He appears poised to have a good race, though his trainer has a couple of worries.

"You're concerned any time you're the highweight, and he isn't a big horse to begin with," said trainer Mark Frostad. "And we won't be running him if the race is switched to dirt."

Windward Islands has run his best races over the turf, though at slightly longer distances. He came back two races ago from a layoff of nearly a year, the result of a slow-healing ankle injury.

In his first race back, at Keeneland on Oct. 4, he was easily the best, winning an allowance race by 3 1/4 lengths while going 1 3/16 miles on the turf.

In his last race, the Grade 2 Sky Classic at Woodbine, Windward Islands never made a serious move over the yielding turf, finishing fourth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths.

"That last race was over a very soft turf, and all the horses seem to go around and finish in the same order they started," said Frostad. "Hopefully there will be a little more pace in this one."

Frostad's hopes for a decent pace rest upon General Charley, who has shown new life since being claimed five races ago for $35,000.

In his four races since being claimed, he has two wins and two seconds. In his last out, the John Henry at Arlington Park, he rated behind the leaders and finished second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

While General Charley raced forwardly in those four races, he has succeeded by avoiding speed duels, setting modest paces for himself, and keeping enough in reserve to be in it at the end.

Plus, General Charley is versatile, having won on turf, synthetic, and dirt, with his best race having come in an off-the-turf race in July at Arlington.

"It's a tough race, but they'll have to bring their 'A' game to beat him, because their 'B' game won't do it," said trainer Neil Pessin. "And we'll be running if it's on the dirt."

The race is named for famed New Orleans sportswriter Buddy Diliberto, who labeled those whose argued against him "squirrels," and is remembered for nicknaming the New Orleans Saints the Aints.