06/21/2007 11:00PM

Howard pressing Brilliant for Firecracker start

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Under different circumstances, Neil Howard wouldn't be quite so demanding of one of his horses. But Howard feels he needs up to make up for lost time with Brilliant in trying to make the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap next Saturday, thus explaining an inordinately busy workout schedule of four breezes in a 15-day span.

"I won't deny that I've kind of been squeezing him a little bit," said Howard.

Brilliant, beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, figures to contend for favoritism in the $250,000 Firecracker, a one-mile turf race that anchors the action next weekend at Churchill Downs. Howard said he is "about 70-30 in favor" of running the 4-year-old, depending on how the colt emerges from a half-mile turf work Tuesday.

The Tuesday work will be the fourth for Brilliant in a span that began June 12. Howard said the colt may have bled a bit in the Woodford.

"My guess is that his blood count went up a little bit as a result of that," he said. "To make a long story short, it took him a while to bounce back. The moral of the story is that he looks okay now. Everything's fine."

Howard initially had planned on running Brilliant in the May 26 Connaught Cup at Woodbine but obviously had to scrap those plans.

"We've always had the Firecracker on our schedule, for several good reasons, so I'd really like to make it if it's possible," he said.

Brilliant, with Mark Guidry to ride, is one of 29 older horses nominated to the Firecracker. Among the other probable starters is Remarkable News, who is scheduled to ship here from New York for trainer Angel Penna Jr. A 5-year-old Venezuelan-bred, Remarkable News won the May 19 Dixie at Pimlico in his last start.

Street Sense may again breeze soon

Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is nearing his first breeze since trainer Carl Nafzger decided late last month not to run the colt in the Belmont Stakes.

"He's getting real close," said Nafzger's assistant, Ian Wilkes. "We're not sure exactly when, but he's coming up on a breeze. He's doing just fine. He's been galloping a mile and a quarter pretty much every day, doing great."

Street Sense has not breezed since going a half-mile on May 30. Nafzger announced the next day that the colt would bypass the June 9 Belmont in favor of the Jim Dandy Stakes, a July 28 race to be used as a prep for the Aug. 25 Travers Stakes. Both races are at Saratoga.

Meanwhile, trainer Steve Asmussen said earlier this week that Curlin, the colt who narrowly defeated Street Sense in the Preakness, also is nearing his first breeze since finishing second to Rags to Riches in the Belmont. Curlin goes next in the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.

Top-dollar spot for Albarado

By winning the Stephen Foster last weekend aboard Flashy Bull, Robby Albarado shot to the top of the national standings for earnings, taking a slim lead over Garrett Gomez with a little more than $9 million in purse earnings (statistics are for North American racing only).

Albarado, who makes a circuit of Fair Grounds in the winter, Saratoga in the summer, and Kentucky in the spring and fall, acknowledged that the top-earning jockey in North America invariably calls New York or Southern California home, not Kentucky.

"If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be here, I wouldn't have believed you," said Albarado.

Burmilla wins in return

Burmilla, a 4-year-old Storm Cat filly owned by Darley Stable, remained unbeaten by winning after a layoff of nearly a year in the Thursday feature. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Burmilla nudged ahead of Graeme Six following a torrid stretch duel to prevail by a nose. She returned $4 after finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.93 over a fast track.

Trained by Eoin Harty, Burmilla is 3 for 3, having easily won her first two starts last year.

* Two big-name horses nearing comebacks from injury both had recent works at Churchill. Brass Hat, an earner of more than $1.2 million, breezed a mile Thursday in 1:41.40, while Tiz Wonderful, the unbeaten 3-year-old trained by Asmussen, went an easy five furlongs Monday in 1:05.

* Trainer Tom Amoss said this week that Baghdaria, who was vanned off the track following the Fleur de Lis Handicap last Saturday, was suffering from heat exhaustion and is otherwise fine.