05/18/2005 11:00PM

Schaefer 'Cap suits Alumni Hall for now

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BALTIMORE - Trainer Neil Howard is resisting any inclination to throw into the deepest of waters, at least for now. Despite back-to-back victories in tough races at Keeneland, Alumni Hall was never really considered for the Pimlico Special, even though Howard had every intention of heading to Maryland from Kentucky.

Instead, Howard waited an extra day for the William Donald Schaefer Handicap, the Grade 3 race that directly precedes the Preakness on a blockbuster 13-race card Saturday at Pimlico. Having dodged the likes of Funny Cide and Badge of Silver in the Pimlico Special, it's little wonder that Alumni Hall's strong current form should make him a solid choice in the $100,000 Schaefer Handicap.

"This is the kind of spot we've been pointing for all along," said Howard, who 15 years ago scored his greatest career triumph with Summer Squall in the Preakness. "The nice Grade 3's, and not the Grade 1's, not right now. I wouldn't rule those races out later, but we're staying with the original game plan."

Alumni Hall, a 6-year-old horse owned by a partnership headed by Will Farish, is entered off a two-length victory in the April 28 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland.

"He's been training well since the Ben Ali," said Howard.

Alumni Hall, with Robby Albarado to ride, will break from the outside post in a field of eight older horses in the 1 1/8-mile Schaefer. His strongest opposition appears to be the colt to his inside, , who has earned five straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures and will be ridden again Saturday by Jerry Bailey.

The rest of the field, from the rail, is Ouagadougou, Clays Awesome, Go Now, Seven Talents, Royal Assault, and Contante.