Trainer Neil Howard eyes winner's circle in Black-Eyed Susan
BALTIMORE (AP) Twenty-five years later, Neil Howard is looking for another big payday at Pimlico Race Course.
Howard is the trainer for Ahh Chocolate, one of the top entrants in Friday's $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies.
Ahh Chocolate has won both her career races, but this is by far her most challenging test.
''We've got a nice filly, but a lightly raced filly,'' Howard said, leaning against a fence outside the Stakes Barn at Pimlico on Thursday. ''This should be a typical Grade 2 race: very deep, very competitive race. But we're ready to go.''
The 66-year-old Howard got into racing in 1969 as an assistant trainer and broke out on his own 10 years later. He has more than 1,100 victories over a stellar career, none more significant than in 1990, when he saddled Preakness winner Summer Squall.
''I would say that's the highlight,'' Howard said. ''Anytime you're fortunate enough to win a classic, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.''
Joining Ahh Chocolate in the winner's circle wouldn't rival the thrill of winning the Preakness, but Howard didn't short-sell the potential experience, either.
''It would mean everything,'' he said. ''You're glad to win any race, especially in this particular case because we've got what we think is a filly with a future, which remains to be seen.''
This will be Ahh Chocolate's stakes debut. She broke her maiden Feb. 21 going six furlongs at Fair Grounds before covering 1 1/16 miles in a victory on April 8 at Keeneland. Now she's poised for an even stiffer test, at 1 1/8 miles against strong competition.
''She's light on seasoning but she's got a real good demeanor,'' Howard said. ''There's a lot of things that made me feel, and the owners agreed, that we're OK to do this.''
The 9-5 favorite is Luminance, who will be saddled by Bob Baffert. This is shaping up to be quite a weekend for Baffert, who's also the trainer for Preakness favorite American Pharoah.
''I've been in this kind of situation before,'' said Baffert, who acknowledged that most of his energy has been dedicated toward prepping American Pharoah and Dortmund for Saturday's big race.
Luminance has two wins and a second-place showing in her three career races. She made her stakes debut April 4, finishing second in the Santa Anita Oaks.
''She's a real good filly,'' Baffert said.
Danessa Deluxe, with two wins in six career starts, is a 9-2 choice in the race. Include Better, a three-time winner, opened at 5-1.