07/25/2007 11:00PM

Breeders' Cup hunt starts in earnest

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Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Flashy Bull, the winner of four straight, including the Stephen Foster, drew the rail for the Whitney.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - While some horsemen were fretting over the post position draw and an unfavorable weather forecast for Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, Buff Bradley, the trainer of Brass Hat, wasn't sweating anything.

Considering all his horse has been through, an outside post or a sloppy Saratoga main track wasn't something to keep him up at night.

As it turned out, Bradley didn't have to worry about the draw, as Brass Hat drew post 3 in the 12-horse field, the biggest field for the Whitney since 14 ran in 1971. As for the prospect of a sloppy track, well, Brass Hat ran the best race of his life in the slop, winning the 2006 Donn Handicap by 4 3/4 lengths.

"If it comes up wet, maybe it won't help others like it might help him," Bradley said.

In addition to having a large field, the Whitney is one of the most competitive Grade 1 races on this circuit in years. How competitive? Sun King, beaten a nose by Invasor in this race a year ago at 6-1, is listed at 12-1 on Eric Donovan's morning line.

Flashy Bull, Magna Graduate, and Diamond Stripes, who finished within a half-length of each other in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, are all major contenders in the Whitney, as are Papi Chullo and Lawyer Ron.

The $750,000 Whitney is the centerpiece of an 11-race card that includes the Grade 1 Diana, Grade 1 Go for Wand, and Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. All four races are part of the new Breeders' Cup Challenge Series called "Win and You're In," a six-day, 24-race series in which the winners of selected stakes earn automatic berths into their respective Breeders' Cup races, run Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park.

The Whitney winner gains an automatic berth into the $5 million Classic, the Diana corresponds with the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf, the Go for Wand winner earns a spot in the $2 million Distaff, and the Vanderbilt winner qualifies for the $2 million Sprint.

All four Saturday races will be televised live on ABC beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. The four stakes make up a pick four wager that has guaranteed pool of $500,000. The Grand Slam (races 6 through 9) has a guaranteed pool of $100,000.

The day before the 2004 Breeders' Cup, Brass Hat suffered a condylar fracture to his right front ankle running in the Lone Star Derby. He recovered and returned to win the 2006 New Orleans and Donn handicaps and run second (though later disqualified for a medication violation) in the Dubai World Cup. Later in the year, he fractured the sesamoid in his right front ankle and missed another 11 months.

Brass Hat returned from that injury July 8 to win a classified allowance at Churchill Downs, running 1 1/16 miles in a track-record 1:41.27. Bradley, who trains the 6-year-old gelding for his father, Fred Bradley, said he is not worried about Brass Hat reacting from the race.

"If he does, he bounces forward," said Bradley, who worked the colt five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Churchill Downs last Saturday. "That's the fastest he ever worked. I feel very good about it. We wouldn't trade with anybody."

Flashy Bull, who brings a four-race winning streak into the Whitney, drew the rail, which thrilled trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who recalled that Flashy Bull had post 20 in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

"We are going to probably stalk, and you want to save some ground," McLaughlin said. "If we had drawn the 10 hole, I would have had to talk to [owner Terry Finley] about possibly scratching."

Magna Graduate is one of three horses entered by trainer Todd Pletcher. Since having blinkers removed from his equipment after an eighth-place finish in the Donn, Magna Graduate has won two Grade 3 races and came up a head short in the Stephen Foster.

"He's settled a lot better in his races, so that's been the real key," said Pletcher, who will also saddle the speedy Fairbanks and Lawyer Ron. "He's relaxed, and because of that he's finishing up. He actually got a little too far back the other day."

Fairbanks, who ran second in the Suburban, is the likely pacesetter under Richard Migliore, while Lawyer Ron, who drew post 11, will have to use his speed to gain early position. He is 2 for 2 on wet surfaces.

Diamond Stripes, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., won the first four races of his career, including the Grade 3 Pegasus, before suffering his first defeat in the Stephen Foster under Edgar Prado.

"When he was moving well down the backside, Edgar grabbed a hold of him to settle him," Dutrow said. "He felt he might have been moving too soon. He said that when he did that it took him time to get back in the game. He said, 'I should have kept him sustaining his drive down the backside.' "

Dutrow said the horse was "really, really angry for 10 days" after the Foster, and that once he settled down, "he's been training

great. . . . I can't wait to get redemption."

Papi Chullo enters the Whitney off two excellent wins for new trainer Gary Contessa. While he has tried Grade 1 company before, he has never been as well prepared for it as he is now. Contessa loved the idea that he is drawn in post 2, right next to Flashy Bull.

"I want Flashy Bull right inside of me, because that's the horse to beat," Contessa said.

Dry Martini, who won the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows on June 30 in his first start for Barclay Tagg, drew post 10. Tagg said he would prefer more time between races, fearing a regression off the horse's best career effort.

Awesome Twist, second in the Tom Fool, Student Council, and Wanderin Boy complete the field.