NEW ORLEANS -- With Rachel Alexandra pointed to return in next Saturday's New Orleans Ladies, the race is shaping up as an intimate affair, with five fillies or mares likely to run.
Although the purse for the race is $200,000, the most of any ungraded stakes at Fair Grounds, most trainers aren't interested in competing against the 2009 Horse of the Year.
The Ladies will be Rachel Alexandra's first race in six months. She has been working steadily since Jan. 31 for the race, which she is using to prepare for her highly anticipated race against Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom on April 9 at Oaklawn.
Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, will be sending Zardana to New Orleans to test Rachel Alexandra in the Ladies. Zardana would be Shirreffs's first career starter at Fair Grounds.
Of the local horses, Clear Sailing stands out. Her trainer, Glenn Delhoussaye, is viewing the race through the prism of his own horse.
"I am fan of Rachel Alexandra, but right now I am focused on Clear Sailing," Delahoussaye said. "This race has always been a stepping-stone for her to get her to the La Troienne."
The La Troienne is a Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile race at Churchill Downs on April 30.
"We wanted to have a progression of races for her on our home court and then ship her to Kentucky," Delahoussaye said. "I knew in the back of my mind that they had written the race for Rachel Alexandra, but I never considered who was going to be in or out."
Clear Sailing will enter the New Orleans Ladies off of three straight wins and a perfect record at Fair Grounds, including a come-from-behind victory in the Pelleteri on Feb. 13. In that race, she was more than eight lengths back and closed to win by a neck over Fighter Wing, who also is likely to run Saturday.
"Given the circumstances, that it was difficult to close into anything that day and there was a not lot of pace, I thought her race was impressive," Delahoussaye said.
General Quarters keeps trainer busy
Trainer Tom McCarthy's one-man, one-horse barn continues to thrive at Fair Grounds, with the 76-year-old trainer fulfilling all roles: trainer, groom, hotwalker, and regular companion to General Quarters.
The pair were walking the barn Friday morning as General Quarters cooled out from his first work since finishing second in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 20.
With regular jockey Robby Albarado aboard, General Quarters went four furlongs in 51.60 on Friday.
"Robby said he loved the work," McCarthy said. "He knows the horse well, knows how he likes to finish up."
General Quarters has finished second in all three of his races this meet. In the Mineshaft, McCarthy sent him to tackle Friesan Fire early and wear him down. The plan worked, though General Quarters was too tired at the end to resist Stonehouse's late charge.
"Had to send him early, couldn't let Friesan Fire get away again," McCarthy said. "I hope there will be more pace in the New Orleans Handicap."
McCarthy has been enjoying his time in New Orleans, though keeping up with General Quarters has left him little time to enjoy much of New Orleans beyond the food.
McCarthy drives in from his apartment in Metairie each morning, arriving before 6, and begins to prepare General Quarters for his trip to the track. Just after the 8 a.m. break, McCarthy leads General Quarters out for his gallop or his work and then back to the barn to cool him out.
"He pulls me around the barn pretty fast, keeps me in shape," McCarthy said.
After grooming General Quarters each day, McCarthy goes back to his apartment for a nap and then returns about 3 p.m. to check in with his charge.
"He tires me out," McCarthy said. "I love the restaurants and the seafood, but I'm too tired to go out and do anything else."