04/20/2011 12:53PM

Preakness best-case scenario for Howard-trained Lexington entry Prime Cut

Fair Grounds
Trainer Neil Howard is hopeful that Prime Cut can run well while making his stakes debut in Saturday's Coolmore Lexington.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The winter in New Orleans started with at least a couple of Kentucky Derby possibilities for Neil Howard, but that’s over. Ever the realist, Howard pulled the Derby plug on Machen, then Wilkinson, after each colt proved unworthy of advancing any further.

Now comes the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, often cited as the best last-chance stop for the Derby, and here is Howard with Prime Cut, one of the six 3-year-olds in the Saturday race at Keeneland. With the Lexington purse reduced to $200,000, a Derby wannabe would have to have already accumulated some graded earnings to make the 20-horse cutoff, and Prime Cut will be making his stakes debut Saturday. So enough of the Derby talk.

“We have talked about making the Preakness with the colt,” said Howard. “We’re basically trying to take the next step with him, which we think he’s ready for. We thought this would be a good progression.”

Prime Cut, a Bernstein colt owned by the Courtlandt Farms of Donald Adam, was good enough to defeat the highly regarded Bind in an allowance route in his Fair Grounds farewell. That victory is enough to make him a major contender for the Lexington, which goes at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack.

“The colt got sick as a 2-year-old and missed a good part of the season,” said Howard. “Mr. Adam has indulged me to no end in taking my time with him. He’s a nice horse, and it’d be good to see him move forward again Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Howard said Wilkinson, 10th of 12 in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes here last Saturday, probably will get a brief freshening.

“We might look to turf with him,” said Howard. “Or we might look to go a little shorter, maybe a mile. We’re still looking at him as a decent colt. He tried the other day. He just wasn’t up to Grade 1 level.”

Machen, fifth in the March 26 Louisiana Derby last out, is being pointed to the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, said Howard.