12/19/2001 1:00AM

Almost everybody wants lead


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Louie Roussel has already entered Kris's Sleigh twice this meet in Fair Grounds turf races, but Kris's Sleigh has yet to leave Roussel's barn in the afternoon. Rained off the grass both times he was supposed to run, Kris's Sleigh tries once more Friday in the Fair Grounds feature.

Kris's Sleigh is one of eight horses entered in the ninth race, which is for third-level allowance horses or $75,000 claimers at about 7 1/2 furlongs. Like four others, Kris's Sleigh, who has six career wins, is running for the claiming tag, and in fact would barely qualify for the allowance condition on his local record alone. Kris's Sleigh has done his best running at Fair Grounds, and won three straight races here last season, the last two by a combined 13 lengths. Starting under these same race conditions March 8, he won by more than five lengths.

But a couple factors make Kris's Sleigh something less than a cinch. For starters, Kris's Sleigh is a year older now, and has lost four times in a row. And in Friday's race, the habitual front-runner must deal with a field full of speed. Kris's Sleigh has done well to draw outside the other front-runners, which means leading rider Eddie Martin does not have to send his mount from the gate, but unless he suddenly unveils new rating tactics, Kris's Sleigh could get swept into early competition with any combination of five different horses - Soccer George, Grandpa Two, Wertz, Virginia Pride, and Cocktails and Lies.

Of these, Wertz would be the most dangerous were he not also the speediest of the quartet. But since Wertz has been the early leader in his last four route races, he will have to square off with Kris's Sleigh at some point, and may be worse for the encounter in the stretch.

What's needed is exactly what's missing from the race - a reliable closer. Castle Comer, who switches circuits and makes his first start for trainer David Carroll, is likely to be farthest off the early pace, but he struggled to break through even his second allowance condition and shows only three wins in 29 starts.