04/24/2006 11:00PM

Farish dominates Ben Ali


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There is no truth to the rumor that the Ben Ali Stakes has been renamed the Will Farish Invitational. Just because Farish and his longtime trainer, Neil Howard, have totally dominated the Ben Ali in recent years, Keeneland has not yet made such a drastic move.

But if someone besides Farish and Howard doesn't win the Ben Ali some year soon, there might be no other choice. The familiar owner-trainer team first won the Ben Ali in 1999 with Jazz Club, then again with Mineshaft in 2003, then Midway Road in 2004, and then Alumni Hall in 2005. And when the Grade 3, $150,000 race is run Thursday for the 76th time, Farish and Howard will be front-and-center again when trying for a fourth straight Ben Ali victory with Alumni Hall.

"There have been some unusual circumstances that have worked out in our favor the last few years," Howard said earlier this week at Churchill Downs. "We've had some nice horses ready to run, and the Ben Ali came up at the right time."

Robby Albarado, who also has been part of the Ben Ali juggernaut by riding each of the last three winners, has the mount back on Alumni Hall, a 7-year-old horse who figures to vie for favoritism in the 1 1/8-mile race with Wanderin Boy.

, a winner in 9 of 22 career starts, will be trying to rebound off a subpar effort that still has Howard scratching his head. After finishing third behind Brass Hat in the Jan. 7 New Orleans Handicap, Alumni Hall was never in contention in a March 11 allowance race at Oaklawn Park at 1-5 odds.

"He obviously had a bad day in that allowance race," said Howard. "But I'll tell you what - he went into that race good, and he came out of it just as good. He's trained especially well since we came back here to Churchill. That work the other day," a five-furlong breeze on Saturday in 59.80 seconds, "was extremely good, I thought."

To keep his stable's streak alive, Alumni Hall likely will have to outrun , a Nick Zito-trained 5-year-old who ran a career-best race on opening day. Wanderin Boy drew off for a 10-length victory in that classified allowance to earn a 113 Beyer Speed Figure.

Zito also has a second starter, , in the Ben Ali, the eighth of nine Thursday races.