03/28/2002 1:00AM

Howard staff, horses in van spill


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Four horses and two employees of trainer Neil Howard escaped serious injury late Tuesday when the Sallee horse van in which they were riding careened off a Mississippi interstate.

Bob Maxwell, vice president of Sallee, said the driver of the van began going off the road when he overcorrected. The trailer went over onto its side on a grassy median although the tractor stayed upright

"There were a few minor scrapes and bumps, but in terms of what happened, somebody upstairs was really looking out for us," Howard said Thursday from his Churchill Downs barn. "One of my men gashed his hand pretty good, but the big picture is that everybody's going to be okay. The alternative could have been much worse."

The van was headed north from Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where Howard was stabled this winter, to Churchill. The four horses were all fillies owned by Howard's main client, Will Farish, and Farish's partners and family members. None is a stakes winner, although one, Charmed Gift, is stakes-placed.

The two Howard employees were riding in the trailer with the horses. Two men who alternated as drivers were in the cab. None was seriously hurt.

Howard said the four horses in the accident had to be extricated from the badly damaged trailer by emergency personnel.

Another Sallee van, also carrying four Howard-trained fillies, happened to be en route from New Orleans, having left later than the van that eventually crashed. It stopped to pick up the four horses from the wrecked van and transport them the rest of the way to Louisville.