11/09/2006 1:00AM

Howard sees Brilliant future


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Apparently it's never too soon to start making your Kentucky Derby Day plans. Neil Howard already knows what he would like to be doing on May 5, 2007, and that's placing a saddle on Brilliant before the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day.

"Working backward, we're using the Woodford as our long-range goal," said Howard, who will saddle Brilliant for his 3-year-old finale Saturday in the $150,000 at Churchill Downs. "We thought this race Saturday would be a nice way to end his year, then ideally bring him back with a couple of races in New Orleans to shoot for the Woodford."

The connections of Brilliant are the same as those that upset the 2005 Woodford with America Alive. The trainer is Howard, the jockey is Robby Albarado, and the owner is the Mill House of James Brady, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. They all will be hoping that Brilliant can live up to favoritism in the Commonwealth Turf, a 1 1/16-mile race that drew a field of 11.

Brilliant disappointed as the chalk last time. Dispatched at 3-5 in the Oct. 14 Hawthorne Derby, he faded to finish sixth. Howard said the surprising loss probably was the result of two factors: a highly demanding previous race over "a very, very deep turf course" at Delaware Park, and a lung infection that was diagnosed afterward.

"We've cleared up the infection, and I think I've got him sitting on a very big race," said Howard. "He's really been training well for this."

Brilliant, whose 5-for-11 record includes wins in the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup in June and the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware in September, will break from post 2 in the Commonwealth Turf, which is carded as the ninth of 10 Saturday races.

The other main players include Yankee Master, a highly consistent shipper based in New York with Linda Rice; Outperformance, another New York invader, who was second to Showing Up in the Jamaica last out; Kingship, the beaten favorite last month in the Bryan Station at Keeneland; and the respective two-three finishers in the Bryan Station, Storm Treasure and Arbuckle Bandit.

Rounding out the field are Costa Rising, Hesanoldsalt, Sea of Trees, Agimoni, and Rock' N Fire.

Two allowances (races 7 and 8) also are on tap for Saturday, when first post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.