12/26/2001 1:00AM

This meet, Howard's got (Good) Game


NEW ORLEANS - So far, trainer Neil Howard's winter in New Orleans has gone just fine. Howard, who moved his stable to Fair Grounds from Florida this season, has started eight horses and won three races, including one with the promising handicapper Rock Slide, and has seen a couple of lightly raced maidens run well. Friday, he stands a good chance of winning his first stakes of the meet with Good Game, who deserves to be favored in the $75,000 Furl Sail Handicap.

The Furl Sail, for fillies and mares at about one mile on turf, is the first of a stakes-rich string of programs at Fair Grounds: Saturday features the Louisiana Handicap, Sunday the Truly Bound for older fillies and mares on dirt, and Monday the Sugar Bowl, for sprinting 2-year-olds.

The Furl Sail drew a full gate of 14 entrants, but the number would be reduced if the race is moved to dirt because of a wet turf course. Rain was forecast here Friday.

Given the way she has worked on the main track since Howard's stable shipped in here, Good Game, a turf specialist, merits attention even on dirt. She has recorded three timed workouts in the last month, including a bullet half-mile in 48.80 seconds Dec. 2. "She's been doing great," said Howard's assistant, Joe DeSantis.

A 4-year-old graded stakes winner owned by Will Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr., Good Game is coming off one of the best races of her career, a nose loss to the graded stakes winner Solvig in a Nov. 22 Churchill allowance race. DeSantis said careful management has given Good Game, a somewhat slight filly, time to mature, and that on the threshold of her 5-year-old season she might just now be hitting her peak.

Good Game, who usually races near the lead, fared poorly in the post-position draw and breaks from post 13. There is not a lot of speed in the Furl Sail, and if Good Game breaks alertly, jockey Calvin Borel should have time to cross over and assume a good position on the first turn.

Euryanthe, second in this race last year, Lady of Peace, who has won five of her six starts on this turf course, and the recent claim Silver Rail might be Good Game's most serious challengers. Euryanthe rallied late to miss Lady of Peace by a head in an allowance race here on opening day, and both fillies have turned in sharp five-furlong works since then.

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. claimed Silver Rail for owners Sanford Goldfarb and Hemlock Hills Farm for $75,000 on Aug. 2, and in her only start since then the filly put in a strong run to finish third in a stakes-quality turf allowance at Belmont.

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