01/04/2007 1:00AM

Patriot Act facing a tough pace scenario

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NEW ORLEANS - Patriot Act, a fast-closing second in the Tenacious Handicap in his last start, seems set to improve on that finish when he faces five rivals in Sunday's $75,000 Louisiana Breeders' Cup Handicap at Fair Grounds.

Running against the track bias in a paceless race, Patriot Act turned in a monster rally to miss by a neck in the Dec. 2 Tenacious Handicap, a race that thoroughly pleased trainer Neil Howard.

Howard has been very patient with Patriot Act, a 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy who has been slow to develop but appears set to pay dividends for owner-breeder William S. Farish.

"He's been a little bit plagued by minor setbacks. He's one of those horses that's two steps forward, three steps back," said Howard. "But since we got him back this fall I would cautiously say I think that's all behind him. This is as good as I've seen him on a consistent basis for a long time."

Patriot Act impressively won a second-level allowance race at Churchill before finishing second in the Tenacious.

"A lot of these A.P. Indys, although I'm blessed as can be to have them, they are a little different breed of cat, and they do take a little time to come around," said Howard. "You just have to be patient with them and usually you're rewarded."

Patriot Act may have to overcome another unfavorable pace scenario in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana BC, because Jonesboro, the lone speed horse, is in sharp form coming off a front-running score in the $97,000 Sams Town at Delta Downs on Dec. 1.

"If they can go the first quarter in 24 and change," said Howard, "even if your horse is running you can't make up any ground on them at the end."

Sandburr is coming into the race off a rallying victory over Texas-breds in the Star of Texas at Sam Houston. He has won claiming races in open company and finished third in the $138,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury.

Middleweight, the biggest money winner in the race with a bankroll of $292,555. He has done most of his running on grass but has won a stakes race, the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston, on the dirt.

Pressed, who has finished in the money in multiple stakes, was second in the $75,000 Ark-La-Tex Handicap on July 22, then had time off before running fifth in the Tenacious Handicap.

Matzoh Toga also has a race over the track, a second-place finish in a third-level allowance.