02/16/2002 12:00AM

On paper, Royalton the best

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NEW ORLEANS - After consecutive days with graded stakes races, the pace at Fair Grounds slows to allowance speed on Monday. First-level allowance speed, at that.

The featured ninth is an entry-level turf route allowance for 3-year-olds which has attracted an overflow field, with 12 horses in the body of the race and two on the also-eligible list.

The favorite is Royalton, who looks as strong on paper as he did in two previous races at this meet against comparable opposition. Skeptics will note that Royalton lost both of those starts as a heavy favorite.

Royalton is trained by Billy Badgett, whose barn scored a turf win on Friday with Risen Miss, who took heavy early betting action and got up by a neck in a turf claimer. On the basis of a close fourth-place finish in the $100,000 World Appeal last fall at The Meadowlands and a head loss here in the Black Gold Handicap, Royalton continues to look strong on form in allowance company. And though he was beaten at 6-5 odds on Jan. 31, Royalton lagged well behind a tepid pace and made up five lengths in the stretch to finish behind Mystic Salse, a promising young turf runner from the Todd Pletcher barn.

Bettors remaining unconvinced will find few solid alternatives if the race stays on turf. Nine of the entrants already have run in claiming races, and one of the obvious contenders, Portcullis, was all out to win a maiden race of questionable quality in his last start. Premier Performer, who drew poorly in post 12, finished second in his last start to Rylstone, a turf stakes winner who is being pointed to main track stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The co-featured eighth came up predictably light, as there's not an overabundance of especially talented horses still eligible for a first-level allowance race in February of their 4-year-old season. It will be interesting to see what trainer Gerald Romero got in his claim of Ish Ar, a well-bred colt who debuted with a supremely easy win in a $20,000 maiden claimer. The favorites in this race, The Rain King, Bomb Site, and Wheat Penny, may all be vulnerable.

Hard-working Clergy

The 3-year-old gelding Clergy, who may make his next start in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, worked seven furlongs in a swift 1:25.80 here Saturday. There was only one other seven-furlong work Saturday.

Also working was the 3-year-old colt In High Gear, who was injured after an impressive win in his debut early last summer in New York. In High Gear, who is trained by Richard Dutrow, worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds, his first breeze since he resumed training.

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