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Sunday Notes: Howard Honing Wilkinson's Skills With Patience

Trainer Neil Howard was his usual modest self when accepting congratulations back at his Fair Grounds barn Sunday morning, one day after his latest star sophomore Wilkinson, owned by Gaillardia Racing, occasioned a mild upset with his victory by a head in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes.

The Lecomte was the highlight of Saturday’s Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone, and as the first of a three-race sophomore stakes series at the New Orleans oval, it leads to bigger and better things – first the Grade II Risen Star Stakes Feb. 19 and finally this year’s $1 million Grade II Louisiana Derby March 26.  

“This colt is really starting to mature,” said Howard of Wilkinson’s prowess in recent weeks. “It took us a little time to get him going after minor problems like allergies and sore shins, but Mr. (owner Ed) Gaylord let me take some time with him and fire his shins and now it looks like the colt is coming along.

“I’ve learned that usually, if you take your time with these young horses, you’ll be rewarded in the end,” Howard said. “I’m not saying that every horse is going to be a stakes winner when you take your time with them, but you do give them the chance to be the best that they can be.

“We’d like to keep moving forward with this horse, so we’ll figure out more specifically what we’re going to do when we see how he’s progressing in the next couple of weeks,” Howard said. “Obviously, we want to keep the Louisiana Derby as a possibility for him, and there’s a chance we might skip the middle one (Risen Star) and wait for the Derby. We’ll make a decision on that after I sit down with the owner. I hate to get too far ahead of myself with these horses. I like to keep the bar low and then be surprised if everything goes according to plan.

“Right now, one horse I am thinking about for the Risen Star is Prime Cut,” Howard said of his Courtlandt Farm color bearer by Bernstein out of a Stravinsky mare. “We’d like to see how he does his first time going around two turns.”

BOUQUET BOOTH READYING FOR RACHEL ALEXANDRA STAKES FEB. 19 – Trainer Steve Margolis was all smiles Sunday morning on the clubhouse apron as he watched workouts with wife Sue by his side – and that was easily understandable.

Two of his 3-year-old fillies, Right Time Racing’s Bouquet Booth and Gold Square’s Little Miss Holly, finished first and third respectively in Saturday’s $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes and Margolis began his afternoon by saddling Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein’s Early Return to win the $60,000 F. W. Gaudin Memorial in the first race of the day.

“I didn’t anticipate being on the lead with Bouquet Booth yesterday, but she certainly ran a good race,” said Margolis. “I would say she’s a little more advanced than the other filly at this point in time, but I thought Little Miss Holly ran a very good race, too.

“I would say we’ll probably be pointing Bouquet Booth to the (Grade III) Rachel Alexandra (middle leg of Fair Grounds’ series for sophomore fillies Feb. 19) but I’m not sure what we’re going to do with Little Miss Holly. I hate to keep running them against each other, but I just might do that. I’ll talk it over with the owners. Maybe I could send Little Miss Holly to Oaklawn for one of their 3-year-old filly races. I just don’t know yet.

“Of course, I was very happy with Early Return’s race, too,” said Margolis. “We’ll probably shoot for the ($60,000) Colonel Power (Feb. 19) with him. We’ve been very fortunate here this winter. We’re having an unbelievable meet and it’s because I have a really good staff helping to keep things going. Everyone from my assistant Loren Diego to Ashley Giannini to Shorty The Foreman. He’s the chef. He feeds all the horses.”

RICK AND ASHLEY GIANNINI ENJOY ‘ONE HAPPY HOUSEHOLD’ SATURDAY NIGHTRick Giannini serves as trainer Neil Howard’s assistant, while wife Ashley is a key member of trainer Steve Margolis’s staff, and reflected together on their separately successful professional afternoons Saturday evening.

“Yes, we were one happy household last night,” said Howard’s chief assistant on Sunday morning. “I grew up around horses, but when I first met Ashley, she didn’t know anything about them. I dragged her into this business, but now she enjoys it as much as I do.”

Coincidentally, trainers Howard and Margolis were the two special guests for a “Question and Answer” session with Fair Grounds Racing Analyst Katie Mikolay Thursday night at a Twin Spires Club V.I.P. Stakes Mixer held in the Clubhouse for Gold and Platinum level members, and both conditioners graciously stayed around to mingle with the players following the structured portion of the program.

NAPRAVNIK TROIKA SATURDAY MOVES HER UP TO SECOND IN THE LOCAL STANDINGS – Jockey Rosie Napravnik enjoyed a riding triple Saturday at Fair Grounds, including a score astride Feel The Thunder Stable’s Gran Estreno in the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap, to move her into sole possession of the runner-up spot in Fair Grounds’ jockey standings at the end of the day.