02/03/2006 12:00AM

Rookie finds a gem

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Bill Straus
Trainer Neil Howard would like Alumni Hall to run sometime this meet.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Thad Keller has been training on his own for less than one year, and he has one of the most credentialed 3-year-olds on the grounds at Oaklawn Park.

Kingsfield is a two-time stakes winner, with his latest score coming in the $80,000 Black Gold at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. He is now being pointed for the $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 20.

Keller, who began training Oct. 1, had served as the assistant to Don Von Hemel, one of the top horsemen in the Midwest, since 1988. Keller worked for Von Hemel before then, as well, and has had a long affiliation with Von Hemel and his sons, trainers Donnie and Kelly.

Keller, 36, met the family as a youngster growing up in Nebraska.

He now has a 14-horse stable at Oaklawn, and the best in the barn is Kingsfield. He pulled way to a 5 1/2-length win in the off-the-turf Black Gold, and for his effort in the race, which was his first start around two turns, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 82. Kingsfield shipped to Louisiana Downs for the race from Oaklawn.

"He's doing very well," said Keller. "He came out of the race pretty much like it was a workout for him. He was bouncing the next morning after the trip. He handled it very good. From day one, he's taken everything in stride. He's a very intelligent horse."

Kingsfield's other stakes win came in the Prairie Meadows Freshman last summer at 2, a performance worth a 95 Beyer. He is a Kentucky-bred son of Ecton Park and races for Brass Ring Partnership.

Alumni Hall being freshened

Alumni Hall, one of the best older horses on the grounds as a Grade 3 winner of $663,487, is getting a breather and his next start is yet to be determined, said his trainer, Neil Howard. In his last start, Alumni Hall was third in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.

"He's getting a little busman's holiday," said Howard. "We're just giving him an easy half about once a week, because he's a big, good-feeling horse and if you try to take him out of training he gets too high. He'll run at the meet. I just don't know when."

Alumni Hall will likely skip the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap on Saturday. The next handicap race for his division is the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 12.

Last week, Howard unveiled a promising 3-year-old filly in Leo's Pegasus. She won her maiden last Sunday, and plans are to run her through her conditions, said Howard.

"She'll come back against winners and see how she does," he said. "I was pretty encouraged with that race."

Leo's Pegasus was racing at a less-than-optimum distance on Sunday, winning a six-furlong race with ease despite encountering some trouble. She is a daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus and out of a mare that has produced a winner at 1 5/16 miles in Europe.

"She's bred all the away around to go long," said Howard.

On to the Southwest

Steppenwolfer is headed next to the $250,000 Southwest Stakes after winning an allowance prep for the one-mile race on Friday. He launched a strong rally on the final turn, and went on to a 4 1/2-length win. He covered a mile over a track rated good in 1:42.42.

Robby Albarado rode Steppenwolfer ($5) for trainer Dan Peitz. The big gray colt is now 3 for 4 on dirt.

* Fidrych, who was third last out in the $50,000 Dixieland at Oaklawn, worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:15.20 on Friday morning, and is possible for the Southwest, said his trainer, John Servis. Fidrych, a son of Grand Slam, races for WinStar.

* Greater Good is pointing for the Essex, said his trainer, Bob Holthus.

* The first five races on Friday were won by the No. 2 horse.