02/12/2002 1:00AM

Where's Taylor wins by a nose

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NEW ORLEANS - Loose on the lead with his ears pricked and an easy first quarter-mile behind him, Where's Taylor could already start to celebrate Mardi Gras Day as he ran down the backstretch in the Mardi Gras Handicap Tuesday at Fair Grounds.

But it turned out that Where's Taylor needed all of his early edge, as he narrowly held off King Slayer to win the $75,000 Mardi Gras by a nose.

Where's Taylor ended Northcote Road's three-year win streak in the Mardi Gras, a 7 1/2-furlong grass race. After stumbling at the start on Tuesday, Northcote Road dropped well off the early pace, ceding the early lead to Where's Taylor, the even-money favorite, who appeared unbeatable after a 24.80-second opening quarter-mile.

Northcote Road's move was fine with Where's Taylor's jockey Craig Perret and his trainer, Hilary Pridham. "I had the same concern as Craig, thinking he would get hooked early having the rail," said Pridham.

Where's Taylor was timed in 1:31.57 over firm going and paid $4 to win.