04/18/2008 12:00AM

Pokey pace aids Carriage Trail


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Friday's Grade 3, $125,000 Doubledogdare at Keeneland unfolded like many races over the Polytrack surface - that is, without much pace. Only this time, in contrast to the synthetic track's reputation, the early leader lasted.

Carriage Trail, under leading rider Kent Desormeaux, was able to get away with a soft opening quarter-mile in 25.27 seconds and a half-mile in 49.04, and had plenty in reserve to turn back several rivals before pulling away to a 1 1/4-length victory over Say You Will in the 1 1/16-mile race before a crowd of 20,393.

Panty Raid, last year's Spinster winner and the even-money favorite, ran last in the field of seven in her first start of the year.

Although Carriage Trail enjoyed the benefit of easy fractions in winning the Doubledogdare, she was challenged at several points in the race, first down the backstretch by Panty Raid, and then on the turn by the eventual third-place finisher Indescribable. But Desormeaux always had something left aboard Carriage Trial.

Carriage Trail, a 5-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway, picked up her first graded stakes victory in the Doubledogdare. She raced 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.51, paying $21.20.

Shug McGaughey trained the winner for owners Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable.

As for Panty Raid, she offered little fight once hitting the second turn. Well placed in third early, within striking distance of the leader, she was asked to pick up her pace on the backstretch but was in a full-out drive on the turn and tired to finish 8 1/2 lengths behind Carriage Trail.

Dominican second in comeback

In the eighth race on Friday, a $62,000 third-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, Self Made Man did what Street Sense, Zanjero, and Teuflesberg could not in last year's Blue Grass Stakes - beat Dominican at Keeneland.

Racing uncontested on the lead, Self Made Man ($11.20) set modest fractions under Julien Leparoux before drawing off a 5 3/4-length victory over Dominican. He completed 1o1/16 miles in 1:42.95 over a Polytrack surface that played much kinder to speed than usual.

Dominican, making his first start since a sixth-place finish in the West Virginia Derby last Aug. 4, ran well in defeat but lacked the acceleration he displayed in winning the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland last spring as a 3-year-old.

Fresh off the layoff, he tugged at jockey Gabriel Saez early, and was pocketed behind horses for much of the race. Once clear leaving the turn, he finished well, although never a threat to the winner.

He was somewhat fortunate to finish second, as Birdbirdistheword, making a strong rally along the inside approaching the stretch, was checked sharply along the fence, costing him momentum. He finished third.

Howard mired in slump

Here's something you don't see every day, or every year, or, for that matter, anytime in his career - Neil Howard is 1 for 45.

Indeed, 2008 is nearly one-third finished, and the trainer of stars such as Mineshaft, Summer Squall, and Secret Status is one solitary win better than being retired. Talk about your man-bites-dog kind of news.

"You've got to be ready in life to go through the ups and downs," said Howard. "It's no secret that we're going through a little lull right now, for lack of a better term. I really can't recall any time in my career where it's been like this. I've been very fortunate to have some pretty good horses all along."

Howard, 59, has won 1,065 races from 5,148 starters (20 percent) in a career that began in 1979. He said his slump likely is attributable to "a combination of things."

"You put them all in a bag and shake it up, and all of a sudden there you are," he said.

Howard noted that many of his horses are better suited for the grass, and many turf races were rained off during the recent meet at the Fair Grounds.

"Our 3-year-olds have been kind of slow to come along, too," he said, noting that most have pedigrees that would have made that somewhat predictable.

"Add in the usual everyday lumps and bumps, and it's become a little more of a trend than you'd like."

Howard said one of his best horses, Brilliant, underwent surgery about three weeks ago to have two screws inserted into a hairline fracture in a cannon bone.

"That was pretty typical of how our luck has been," said Howard. "The horse is going to be fine, and hopefully he will be back racing by the end of the year. Hopefully in three, four, five weeks, a lot of all this will be behind us. We've got a lot of conditions to run through, that's for sure."

Howard's lone victory this year came with Grasshopper in the Gradeo3 Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 9 at Fair Grounds. Howard will saddle Crossword against heavily favored Go Between in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes on Sunday here.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee