07/08/2004 12:00AM

At age 5, Alumni Hall in first stakes


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It has taken only four starts for Alumni Hall to earn a spot in an open stakes race. He is making up for the lost years.

Alumni Hall turned 5 this past Jan. 1, and three months later he made his career debut. Five-year-old maidens are not supposed to be runners, even if they have top-end pedigrees, even if Neil Howard trains them. Alumni Hall was 17-1 on April 3 at Keeneland. He broke 10th from the rail, was checked at the top of the stretch, and still bulled his way to a 1 1/4-length victory.

This was no fluke. Sent to Belmont Park for his second start, Alumni Hall finished second, but he blasted through his first two allowance conditions at Churchill Downs, winning on June 10 by nine lengths. Saturday at Arlington, he is likely to be favored in the $75,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap, the first race of what could be a rich stakes career.

"He had a lot of little problems along the way," Howard said, explaining Alumni Hall's late start. "There was mysterious stuff going on in his hind end. It was always two steps forward, three back. Finally, we kept persevering, and last fall we brought him down to New Orleans and got him ready. So far, everything's gone good."

Bred and owned by Will Farish, James Elkins, and Temple Webber, Alumni Hall is by A.P. Indy, and his dam is Private Status, making him a half-brother to the high-class racemare Secret Status. The horse was cut out to be good - if he could only make it to the races.

"At times it was frustrating," said Howard. "If he were a filly, she'd be working on her third foal by now. With a colt or a gelding, you're limited in your options. He was always a beautiful colt, and he always showed signs of being a good horse."

Alumni Hall may turn out to be a good horse, and it will be interesting to see him take the next step on Saturday. But bettors do not have to lock onto a short-priced horse racing over an unfamiliar track against better horses than he has yet faced. There are seven others in the 1 1/8-mile Black Tie Affair, and several could beat Alumni Hall.

The competition includes Wiggins, who turned back to a sprint to face Illinois-breds in the White Oak here June 26, and now is back at a more familiar two-turn trip, albeit on fairly short rest.

"This was one of the races I was thinking about for him all summer," said trainer Tony Granitz. "He's run well going a mile and an eighth here before."

The game 8-year-old Intern lost by a nose but was placed first in an overnight handicap here May 31, and in his third start of the season he has room to improve.

Act of War has not won in 14 months, but the victory came the last time he raced nine furlongs at Arlington.

Jockeys wear patches for charity

Arlington riders have begun wearing a patch on their pants that bears the logo of Thoroughbred owner Frank Calabrese's printing company, FCL Graphics. In return, Calabrese has agreed to donate $200,000 to an endowment for disabled jockeys, a fund that is administered by the national Jockeys' Guild.

But Thursday afternoon, Calabrese said he had not yet given over the money, citing a legal issue that has delayed his donation. Calabrese said he still supports the patches, but said the arrangement "is so controversial."

As of Thursday, Calabrese was the only named sponsor of the program, which was spearheaded by a core group of Arlington jockeys. All riders at Arlington are wearing the patches except leading jockey Rene Douglas. An owner or a trainer can exclude his horse from wearing a patch at the time the horse is entered.

"The ones that don't want to do it, they just don't do it," said Ray Sibille, one of the jockeys leading the charity drive. "It seems to be working fine."

Sibille and the other riders hope the sponsorship program will catch on at Arlington and spread to tracks throughout the country.

Albarado serving suspension

Robby Albarado was suspended three days for causing interference last Sunday aboard Silverfoot in the Stars and Stripes Handicap. Albarado's suspension started Thursday, but he is allowed to ride Alumni Hall on Saturday in the Black Tie Affair. Albarado will finish his suspension Sunday.