11/02/2006 12:00AM

Can Magna Graduate do it again?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Magna Graduate won one of the races that preceded the Breeders' Cup last year at Belmont Park. Saturday at Churchill Downs, Magna Graduate will try to do the same when he makes his return from a seven-month layoff in the $200,000 Ack Ack Handicap, the second race on the card.

Magna Graduate captured the Discovery Handicap before the full Breeders' Cup program was staged last October at Belmont. That victory was the second of three straight that ended the colt's 3-year-old season, and after back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the Donn Handicap and Dubai World Cup to begin this year, he had a chip removed from a hind ankle, precipitating the layoff.

Angel Cordero Jr., who has been getting aboard Magna Graduate for trainer Todd Pletcher, raised his eyebrows when talking about how the colt has been training.

"He's doing very good," said Cordero.

Magna Graduate, an earner of nearly $1.5 million for owner Elisabeth Alexander, is one of 14 horses entered in the Grade 3 Ack Ack. He will be ridden by John Velazquez when he breaks from post 10 in the one-mile race.

Kim Valerio, a bloodstock agent who serves as a stable advisor for Alexander, said Thursday that the Ack Ack will serve as a prep toward a return engagement in the Nov. 24 Clark Handicap at Churchill. Magna Graduate won the Clark last year.

"If we win Saturday, that's icing on the cake," said Valerio. "The Clark is what we're shooting for."

Among the capable challengers looking to spoil the Magna Graduate comeback are It's No Joke, winner of the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in his last start; Straight Line, the defending Ack Ack champion who enters off two straight wins; Wiggins, the standout Illinois-bred with career earnings of nearly $750,000; and Awesome Twist, the Brooklyn Handicap runner-up who has recorded back-to-back Beyer Speed Figures of 100.

The balance of an outstanding lineup is Irene's Mon, Latent Heat, Going Wild, Level Playingfield, Andromeda's Hero, Papi Chullo, Greeley's Galaxy, Southern Africa, and Cause to Believe.

Cause to Believe is an interesting prospect. Thirteenth in the Kentucky Derby in May, he has had one useful sprint since being laid up since mid-June.

The Ack Ack traditionally has been the opening-day feature each fall meet at Churchill but is being used this year as an appropriate Breeders' Cup lead-in.