04/21/2004 11:00PM

'Midway' romps in Ben Ali

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Bill Straus/Keeneland
Midway Road ($12.20) wins the $150,000 Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland on Thursday.

LEXINGTON, KY. - Trainer Neil Howard and owner William Farish were left with some pretty big shoes to fill this season after the retirement of Mineshaft, their reigning Horse of the Year. On Thursday, Midway Road gave Howard and Farish the right to think they might have every opportunity to defend their title when he set a track record en route to an 11 1/4-length victory in Keeneland's $150,000 Ben Ali Handicap.

Midway Road covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.78, eclipsing the old track record of 1:46.80, set by Good Command in 1987.

"This is a very nice horse but I don't want to get crazy off this one race," said Howard. "Mineshaft is a horse that comes along only once in a lifetime and it's hard to compare any horse to him."

Midway Road earned a 123 Beyer Speed Figure, by 6 points the highest of the year. No horse has earned a better Beyer since Artax's 124 in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

A 4-year-old son of Jade Hunter, Midway Road led virtually every step of the way over a sloppy track. He quickly engaged American Style in the opening furlong, drew well clear midway down the backstretch, then extended his advantage with complete authority while kept under steady urging by jockey Robby Albarado. Albarado was also the regular rider for Mineshaft.

Evening Attire, the 1-2 favorite in a scratch-reduced field of five older colts and geldings, raced within striking distance of Midway Road, but had little response when set down by jockey Cornelio Velasquez into the stretch. Evening Attire reasserted himself after being passed by Sir Cherokee at midstretch and finished second. Jersey Giant and American Style rounded out the complete order of finish.

Sarava and Congrats were scratched.

Howard said he is uncertain what will be next for Midway Road, but mentioned the Grade 1 Pimlico Special May 14 as a possible option.

"Right now I'd like to think about the Pimlico Special since he obviously likes that track," said Howard, referring to Midway Road's second-place finish behind Funny Cide in the 2003 Preakness. "But obviously that means taking on all the big guns. I'll talk things over with Mr. Farish before deciding what will be next."