02/14/2007 12:00AM

If Crossword wins, stakes may be next

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The Neil Howard barn already has won one third-level allowance for older route horses at this Fair Grounds meet, and should be favored to take another with Crossword in the featured ninth race on Friday in New Orleans. Student Council won well for Howard in a one-mile third-level allowance race on Jan. 4, then went to Sam Houston and captured the Maxxam Gold Cup. Stakes action also could await Crossword if he can handle a class rise Thursday.

Crossword, owned by Sarah Sharp Farish, has won 3 of 15 career starts, but may still have upside just six weeks into his 4-year-old season. Crossword's 2006 campaign was filled with turf and Polytrack races, and he at least was consistent, racking up four third-place finishes to go with a pair of wins and a second. But two dirt races this winter at Fair Grounds have produced good performances: a close third to Well Said and Red Raymond on Dec. 10, and a second-level allowance win on Jan. 19 at one mile and 40 yards, the distance of Crossword's race Friday.

Six others were entered in the race, and only one of them, Superstone, is a consistent front-end presence. Crossword has closed into a quick half-mile fraction in both his recent starts, but may be forced to rally behind a slower pace this time.

Superstone was one of two entered by trainer Bobby Springer, and has won two straight at the meet, coming back after being passed in midstretch to beat second-level allowance foes in his most recent out. Superstone has the speed, but Home of Stars, Springer's other entry, has the proven class, with seven victories and career earnings of almost $380,000. Home of Stars flattened out late after making a strong turn move in his most recent race, which happened to be the third-level allowance won by Student Council. Sidcup, Golden Glen, and He's Royal Dee all have a shot, too.

Ceasers March must step up to repeat

Ceasers March manhandled Louisiana-bred sprint maidens in his career debut, but trainer Bret Calhoun should have a better line on his promising 3-year-old after Friday's eighth race. Ceasers March was one of 12 entered in a one-mile entry-level allowance race, and to win again he must overcome at least three hurdles - a move to open company, a stretch from one turn to two, and a wide post. The race also includes sharp last-out maiden winner Ketchikan and two horses from trainer Steve Asmussen, Fortune's Praise and Reporting for Duty, who both look good enough to win.