10/26/2004 11:00PM

Howard has two for Fayette

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Brian Hernandez Jr. has won at a 20 percent rate at the Keeneland meeting. Hernandez and Shane Sellers share the same agent, and with Sellers sitting out the meet, Hernandez has picked up some mounts from trainers who have used Sellers in the past.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trainer Neil Howard said Wednesday that he will run both Midway Road and Alumni Hall in Saturday's closing-day $150,000 Fayette Handicap at Keeneland, where they are expected to meet Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Total Impact.

Both Howard-trained runners are unbeaten at Keeneland, but Midway Road in particular has been sensational here. Howard believes this partially overshadows the colt's other achievements, which include runner-up finishes in the Preakness in 2003 and the Pimlico Special this year.

"He carries the baggage of being considered a Keeneland horse," Howard said.

He said extenuating circumstances have contributed to his 3-for-3 local mark, such as catching the slop in the Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland this spring. That day Midway Road splashed his way to an 11 1/4-length triumph, running 1 1/8 miles in track-record time of 1:46.78. The performance earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 123.

Howard hopes Midway Road can rebound following an uncharacteristically poor effort in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont on Sept. 11, when he finished sixth, beaten by more than 25 lengths. He displaced his palate in that race and will race with a figure-eight bridle in the Fayette, Howard said.

Midway Road worked Wednesday at Churchill Downs, breezing three furlongs over a muddy track in 35.40 seconds.

Howard also anticipates a top performance from Alumni Hall. He said he felt Alumni Hall ran well when he finished fourth behind Evening Attire and Funny Cide in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup before his sixth-place finish in the Turfway Fall Championship Oct. 2.

Country Be Gold, Quest, and Sonic West are also expected in the Fayette, a Grade 3 at 1 1/8 miles.

Hernandez getting it done

Keeneland has historically been a meet at which veteran riders dominate. Apprentice riders, who typically get most of their opportunities in low-end races, get fewer chances here.

This year apprentice Brian Hernandez Jr. is defying the odds. With three days of racing remaining in the meet, he sits in third behind Rafael Bejarano and Pat Day, ahead of journeymen such as Robby Albarado, Willie Martinez, and Calvin Borel.

In winning three races Wednesday at Keeneland, he advanced his record at the meet to 18 for 83, a 22-percent success rate.

Part of his success this meet can be attributed to opportunities gained from the absence of jockey Shane Sellers, who stopped riding this fall because of the limited insurance coverage for jockeys. Hernandez and Sellers have the same agent, Fred Aime, and in the weeks since Sellers stopped riding, Hernandez has been able to pick up business with some of Sellers's clients, including trainer Steve Asmussen.

"I have been able to ride more horses, especially some of the better horses for Asmussen," Hernandez said.

Hernandez has ridden seven winners for Asmussen, 11 for other trainers.

Hernandez, 18, has won 200 races this year, more than any other apprentice rider, while riding in Louisiana and Kentucky.

Aime said Hernandez would ride the Churchill Downs meet and go to Fair Grounds for the winter. He said he hopes to talk with Sellers in the coming weeks to discuss his future.

Action moves to Churchill with Ack Ack

After the conclusion of racing at Keeneland on Saturday, Kentucky racing shifts to Churchill Downs in Louisville. Sunday's opening-day feature, the $150,000 Ack Ack Handicap, is expected to draw a medium-sized field over the infrequently run distance of 7 1/2 furlongs.

Fire Slam, winner of the Grade 2 Riva Ridge at Belmont Park, is set to race for the first time since he finished sixth in the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga Aug. 28. He stumbled at the start of that race, injuring his foot.

Earlier this month, he was scratched from a planned run in the Perryville Stakes at Keeneland because of concerns about a sloppy track.

Other likely starters include Cappuchino, Private Horde, Apt to Be, Sir Cherokee, Sterling Gold, and Super Fuse, Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar said. Beau's Town, Taste of Paradise, Woodmoon, Battle Won, and Crafty Shaw are possibilities, he said.

Lady Tak's next uncertain

Asmussen said Tuesday that plans for Grade 1 winner Lady Tak are undecided. Monday, she worked five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:00.60.

She is nominated to the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff Nov. 7, but Asmussen would not commit to running her there. The Churchill Downs Distaff is a mile race on the main track.

One filly likely headed to the Churchill Downs Distaff is Island Sand, winner of the Grade 1 Acorn, trainer Larry Jones said. She comes off a seventh-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, a race in which she displaced her palate.

Jones said Josh's Madelyn, upset winner of the Grade 2 Raven Run, would skip the Churchill Downs Distaff and likely be freshened for a 4-year-old campaign in 2005.