11/30/2006 1:00AM

Total to start new year in stakes


NEW ORLEANS - One of the most impressive performances of opening week came from the 2-year-old filly Total, who looked like she could be any kind with an impressive victory in an entry-level allowance race Nov. 26.

Jockey Jesse Campbell allowed Total to relax early as she tracked a rapid pace sent by Eccentric Girl. Total went by easily on the turn with long, ground-gobbling strides, then drew away from the field and was eased near the wire in the 5 1/2-furlong sprint as the graded-stakes-placed Expertise chased her home.

"We'll save some for later," said Campbell. "She's a horse that speaks for herself. She really moves smoothly and she feels bigger than she looks; you really know you've got plenty of horse under you. That race was a real confidence-builder for her."

Trainer Al Stall Jr. plans to enter Total in the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs on Jan. 1.

"We've been thrilled to death by the way she's training since she got here," said Stall of Total, a daughter of Forest Wildcat. "She's hot-blooded, but since she's gotten here she's just dropped her head into it and trained beautifully. She's grown quite a lot since the spring. It's nice to have something to look forward to in the new year."

Howard expects prosperous meet

Neil Howard has been bringing - quality horses to the Fair Grounds meet for years now, and the Kentucky trainer is back in New Orleans this year with a 26-horse stable that should account for its share of black type. Perhaps Howard's greatest training accomplishment came as the conditioner of Mineshaft, winner of the 2003 New Orleans Handicap and the Horse of the Year title. In the 2004-05 season Howard trained such stakes winners as Shadow Cast, America Alive, and Alumni Hall.

"I'm so happy to be back," said Howard as he sat in his office in Barn 4A on the Fair Grounds backstretch. "This has almost been like a second home to us the last 15, 20 years. But I have to tell you, when I was driving into town the other day, driving through Slidell was an eye-opener. I turned the radio down and slowed down and kind of took it all in. Talk about putting everyday things in perspective. Anything I watched on TV didn't do justice to it."

Howard, who has probable favorite Patriot Act in Saturday's Tenacious Handicap, is cautiously optimistic about his barn this season.

"We might be a little light in the first few stakes, but we are hoping that our grass horse Brilliance will do well," Howard said. "He'll make his first start back either in the Col. Bradley or the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, with his major goal hopefully being the Mervin Muniz.

"We've got an older horse named Student Council, a horse named Music School who's a 3-year-old coming on 4. We have a filly named Nickle Candy who was second the other day. She looks okay.

"I've got a lot of them that I'm hoping will run in stakes, but right now we're looking for those two-other-thans and those kind of conditions."