06/14/2006 11:00PM

Jefferson Cup: Brilliant primed for first stakes


If ever the foundation was properly laid for a horse to make his stakes debut, such is the case with the 3-year-old colt Brilliant. With seven starts, including back-to-back allowance victories against older rivals since he was introduced to turf, Brilliant figures as a major player when he steps up into stakes company in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jefferson Cup (race 6).

Brilliant is by the turf standout War Chant, but because trainer Neil Howard was based last winter at Oaklawn Park, where there is no turf course, the colt didn't race on grass until April 29, opening day of the Churchill spring meet.

"Of course we've always believed he's had a bright future on the grass," said Howard, who trains Brilliant for the Mill House of James Brady, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury. "But circumstances being what they were, we didn't get the chance until we got back here to Churchill."

Off a 1 3/4-length victory on May 20, Howard is confident that Brilliant is fully prepared for his first stakes engagement. And he had better be: He will face a tough cast of rivals in the 1 1/8-mile Jefferson Cup, including Storm Treasure, the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up; Yate's Black Cat, an impressive winner of the Jefferson Cup prep on May 14; and the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Tahoe Warrior and Mercurius.

"Schedule-wise, and off those two good races, this is a perfect time to try horses like these," said Howard.

Storm Treasure, trained by Asmussen, bears watching after posting several sharp works over the Churchill turf course since finishing 11th in the Derby.