02/11/2003 12:00AM

'Risk' held in high esteem

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NEW ORLEANS - Neil Howard likes to take things slowly, but Political Risk may have other ideas.

A 3-year-old, Political Risk was bred to be a route horse and came out looking like one. A beautiful bay colt by A.P. Indy, he has a long back and long strides to match. But when Political Risk won his career debut with a late run in a six-furlong sprint, it quickened his career path. Instead of stretching out to two turns in a maiden race, Political Risk jumps right into a first-level allowance route Thursday at Fair Grounds. And if he moves just as quickly through this condition, who knows where Political Risk will end up next.

Howard shuns all hype - for him, it's one step at a time. But Political Risk had a reputation even before he raced and didn't diminish it when he won here Jan. 24. Trainer Bret Calhoun has a contender of his own in Thursday's ninth race, but his first question was, "Is Neil Howard's horse in there?" Trainer J.R. Smith Jr. thinks his recent claim Astral Plane can win, but frames his chances around Political Risk. "I know Neil Howard's horse is good, but . . . "

Howard has trained his share of good-looking maiden winners. He's waiting to see how Political Risk handles the next hurdle before anointing him anything more than a promising maiden winner. So far, he has been able to stick to his plan with Political Risk, who's owned in partnership by Will Farish and Mrs. W.S. Kilroy.

"Mr. Farish always felt he'd rather me take a horse like this and run him short the first time," Howard said. "As long as he's coming on at the end, if he gets beat, fine."

Political Risk didn't get beat. Roughed up at the start of his debut, he galloped along behind a moderate pace before mowing down five opponents with a wide stretch run. His time of 1:10.60 - including a final quarter-mile in about 24 seconds - was strong.

"I don't think he'll have problems with showing too much speed at two turns," Howard said. "I've been fortunate to have had my share of A.P. Indys, and they want distance pretty early on in their careers."

The race - at a mile and 40 yards - will test Political Risk. Commander's Affair won his maiden in a two-turn race here Jan. 11, while G. W.'s Deputy finished second to the stakes-bound Seattle Hoofer in a Jan. 17 allowance. Grand Steal flopped as the favorite in that race, but is back for another try on Thursday.

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