01/25/2003 1:00AM

Turf sprint ideal for Oak Hill


NEW ORLEANS - Oak Hill had been mentioned as a possible starter in Saturday's Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, but late last week trainer Mike Mareina shook his head when asked if Oak Hill would run there.

"No," Mareina said, brightening. "There's an allowance Monday at 5 1/2 on grass. He should look pretty good in there."

He does. Oak Hill is one of seven horses entered in the first-level turf allowance. A close third last out in the $75,000 Black Gold Handicap, Oak Hill won a maiden race sprinting on dirt Dec. 19 by almost six lengths. The Black Gold was contested at 7 1/2 furlongs, a short route, but one that encompasses two turns. Oak Hill almost certainly is a better horse right now sprinting, and cutting back to one turn should make him very tough to beat.

Mareina talked optimistically about Oak Hill even before the colt - who is owned by Kuehne Racing - made his career debut here Nov. 29. Oak Hill showed speed but was collared in deep stretch that day, settling for second, but returned about three weeks later to bury a full field of maidens. In the Black Gold, Oak Hill set a startlingly slow early pace, and though he finished well, he didn't finish fast enough and was overtaken late by two horses more naturally suited to routes.

A turf-sprint maiden race here on Jan. 9 was split into two divisions, and the winner of each of those races returns Monday. Both Running Charlie and Justalittlemagic are from the first crop of the sire Indian Charlie, and both ran similar races, rallying from mid-pack. Justalittlemagic ran a tick faster than Running Charlie, but with only one start, Running Charlie may have more upside.

There also are a pair of layoff horses to consider: Rockin on Ready ran well in two starts at Monmouth last summer, while Jet Love was a seven-length winner of his career debut last April at Keeneland.

Howard has another good prospect

Trainer Neil Howard already has had a good Fair Grounds meet, winning stakes races with Rock Slide and, more recently, Mineshaft. Howard's meet could get even better if Political Risk continues to progress from a promising maiden win here last Friday.

Political Risk is by A.P. Indy out of the good racemare Two Altazano, a pedigree that lends itself to distance racing more than sprints, and Political Risk is a strapping colt with the stride of a two-turn horse. Nevertheless, Political Risk had little trouble winning his six-furlong career debut in Friday's seventh race. He scored by 1 3/4 lengths and was timed in 1:10.74 over a track that was playing on the slow side.

"You wouldn't look at him and think he'd win at three-quarters," Howard said Saturday.

Political Risk will run next in a two-turn allowance race, and "that will tell us a lot about him," said Howard. "If you're talking about the Triple Crown and stuff like that, I don't think it's out of the question if he has the ability."