05/18/2004 11:00PM

Alumni Hall making up for lost time

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Will Farish and his longtime private trainer, Neil Howard, have become known for never pushing the envelope, but rather allowing their horses to develop at their own pace.

But this may be taking things a little far.

Alumni Hall, an impressive winner of the fourth race Wednesday at Churchill Downs under Robby Albarado, is a 5-year-old horse who was unraced until last month, when he won a maiden special weight sprint at Keeneland at a robust 17-1. Making his third career start Wednesday, Alumni Hall drew off to win a 1 1/8-mile, entry-level allowance by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths in 1:50.60.

Farish, the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James's in England, was on hand to watch Alumni Hall, whose pedigree (by A.P. Indy out of Private Status) makes him a younger full brother to Secret Status, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Oaks.

"The family is so important to us," Farish said. "This was a very big race for us today."

Howard said Alumni Hall was among the 2-year-olds he had in his stable in the summer and fall of 2001, and that the colt showed considerable promise at the time. But one nagging ailment or slight injury after another led to a series of layoffs, and by the time Alumni Hall returned early this year after an eight-month break from the racetrack, he had turned the ripe old age of 5.

"The remarkable thing about him is he's never had surgery," Howard said. "He's had a little arthritis, a little of this and that, but really never anything serious. He's also been a different case in that if he'd been a filly, you'd just say, 'Let's go ahead and retire her and have her bred.' But you can't do that with an unraced colt."

In his Wednesday triumph, Alumni Hall showed that he may be worthy of running in a stakes race before too long. "This was good for him," said Albarado. "One, to win around two turns, and two, for his confidence. Those are good steps for when he meets the big boys - and he will, because he sure has the talent."

Meanwhile, Farish and Howard said they have "plenty of options" with Midway Road, who ran second to Southern Image last Friday in the Pimlico Special. "We're not committed to anything," Farish said.

Hutt remembered at service

An overflow crowd packed a Louisville church Tuesday afternoon for the funeral service for Danny Hutt, the veteran trainer and businessman who died of a heart attack last Friday at age 55 at a local steakhouse.

Brook Smith, Hutt's close friend and a partner in ownership syndicates that he and Hutt co-managed, spoke eloquently about Hutt at the service, calling him "magnetic and genuine" and acknowledging the positive way in which Hutt had influenced his family and hundreds of friends.

"You could not find a better man than Danny Hutt," Smith said.

Card has three allowances

Three allowance races are carded here Friday, including a pair of third-level allowances. Both drew short fields.

Probably the better of the two is the third race, a $56,700 route headed by Roses in May, who won his last start at Keeneland by an eye-popping 12 lengths. Roses in May, trained by Dale Romans, will be ridden by Pat Day.

In the ninth race, a $55,500 sprint that drew six fillies and mares, Day also has a major contender in Fashion Girl, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.

One other allowance (race 7) also is part of a 10-race Friday card, which carries a twilight first post of 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

Lady Tak gets in a breeze

Lady Tak, who rebounded from two discouraging losses to win an opening-day allowance sprint, tuned up for her role as the favorite in the Winning Colors Handicap by breezing a half-mile Tuesday in 47 seconds.

"I feel great about where she is physically," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. I don't have any question in my mind that she's physically ready to run one of her best efforts."

Lady Tak, runaway winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes last summer, is one of about a half-dozen fillies or mares likely for the inaugural Winning Colors. She will carry highweight of 122 pounds, ridden by Shane Sellers.

Other probables for the six-furlong Winning Colors are Ebony Breeze, Halory Leigh, My Trusty Cat, Put Me In, and Surf N Sand.

Hot apprentice due in town

Apprentice Brian Hernandez Jr., who currently has a big lead atop the jockey standings at Evangeline Downs, is scheduled to begin riding here on a regular basis on Wednesday, agent Fred Aime said.

Hernandez, 18, will graduate from high school in Louisiana on Saturday, then pack his bags to begin riding at Churchill for the rest of the meet. Hernandez made a brief appearance here during Kentucky Derby week, posting one victory and two third-place finishes from seven mounts.

Meanwhile, another young local rider, Justin Shepherd, was scheduled to lose his five-pound apprentice allowance Wednesday. Shepherd accounted for 87 victories and $1.6 million in purse earnings as an apprentice.

New trainer for Easy Grades

Easy Grades, 13th of 18 starters in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, will make his next start at Churchill - and for a new trainer. Jimmy Baker has assumed the training of 5-year-old Easy Grades, who is still eligible for second-level allowance conditions.

At 3, Easy Grades finished second behind Came Home in the San Rafael and Santa Anita Derby. He had been trained by Ted West.

* Martha Bush, whose husband, Lovell, was director of the Churchill mutuels department from 1988-94, died Wednesday at a local hospital after a brief illness. Martha Bush was the mother of Greg Bush, the track's current director of operations.

* Churchill is accepting entries for its annual golf tournament, which is scheduled for June 1 at Wildwood Country Club. For more information, call Buck Wheat at (502) 638-3809.