06/14/2007 12:00AM

Carpetbaggers primary threats

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Magna Graduate, winning the Excelsior last out, has a recent sharp work.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The sun will shine bright Saturday, but only two of the eight scheduled starters in the Stephen Foster Handicap can claim Kentucky as home. Indeed, the Grade 1 race is stacked with New York shippers with designs on the richest race of the post-Kentucky Derby segment of the Churchill Downs spring meet, and chances are that one of those invaders will leave here Saturday with the biggest chunk of the $750,000 purse.

Two of the Stephen Foster favorites come from the powerhouse stable of Todd Pletcher, who can now officially be proclaimed as being on a roll, having claimed his first Triple Crown victory when Rags to Riches captured the Belmont Stakes last Saturday. The Pletcher runners, Master Command and Magna Graduate, already have accounted for five graded handicaps between them this year, with Master Command making quick work of the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne in his last appearance and Magna Graduate knocking out the Excelsior at Aqueduct.

Master Command, the likely favorite with John Velazquez to ride, will start from post 2 in the 1 1/8-mile Foster, just to the inside of Magna Graduate (Garrett Gomez, post 3). Both horses arrived here Monday after posting bullet workouts at their main base, Belmont Park, the previous morning.

"Both horses look fantastic and have trained well here the last 72 hours or so," Michael McCarthy, the locally based Pletcher assistant, said Thursday morning. "I've spent an appreciable amount of time around them both, and I can say with confidence that they're both doing extremely well."

Pletcher is scheduled to be here Saturday for a race that, as McCarthy said, "has a whole lot of speed in it. It sure looks like they'll be ding-donging up front." He added that race strategy will be in the hands of Velazquez and Gomez, "but if I had to guess, it'd be that Master Command will be a little more forwardly placed than Magna Graduate."

Two of the speedier horses in the race are Wanderin Boy (Corey Nakatani, post 6) and the locally based Jonesboro (Calvin Borel, posto8). Wanderin Boy, based at Belmont with Nick Zito, led all the way in the slop in defeating the Pletcher-trained Half Ours in his most recent start, the Alysheba Stakes on the May 4 Kentucky Oaks card here.

As if the race needed any more speed, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who also will be in from New York for the race, entered Mr. Umphrey (Phil Teator, post 4) as a "rabbit" for Diamond Stripes (Edgar Prado, posto1), although he said he will consider scratching Mr. Umphrey if he is satisfied that there is sufficient pace in the race.

Dutrow said Diamond Stripes, unbeaten in four starts, is a potential star-in-waiting.

"It's time to run against tougher horses," he said. "He's already won at four different tracks, so obviously he doesn't have to take his track with him. I think he's a good one."

Rounding out the 26th running of the Foster are Wiggins (Rafael Bejarano, post 5), the second of the two Churchill-based starters, and Flashy Bull (Robby Albarado, post 7). Both enter on multi-race win streaks, with Wiggins, an earner of more than $880,000, having won two in a row, and Flashy Bull, a rapidly improving 4-year-old, having won his last three, ending with a gritty triumph and a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 107 in the Schaefer Handicap on the May 19 Preakness undercard at Pimlico.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was not initially inclined to ship Flashy Bull from New York but changed his mind as the race approached.

"He's gotten so good," said McLaughlin. "That's the time you need to take on some better horses, when you're doing so well. And he has just never been better."

The Stephen Foster is the centerpiece of a Saturday card that includes five other graded stakes, led by the $300,000 Fleur de Lis, a Gradeo2 handicap that features a riveting matchup among Asi Siempre, Ermine, and Indian Vale. The other races, all Grade 3 events, are the $200,000 Jefferson Cup, $200,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup, $150,000 Mint Julep Handicap, and $200,000 Regret Stakes.

The Foster will be the 10th of 11 races, with post time set for 5:51 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:15. The Foster is part of an all-stakes pick six and a pick four that carries a $250,000 guaranteed pool (races 8 through 11).

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high temperature of 91. Live television coverage will be provided by HRTV.