Updated on 09/16/2011 8:02AM

Chance for Slippery Gator to shine

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SALEM, N.H. - So far Slippery Gator has quietly distinguished himself, but Sunday's $25,000 Kevin McHugh Memorial Handicap offers Slippery Gator, 3-year-old son of broodmare Lady Gator, a chance to become a bona fide regional star.

Lady Gator has already foaled two New England champions for owner Francis McDonnell. Sandy Gator won the region's horse of the year title in 1998.

Nana's Toy earned awards from the New England Turf Writers in 1997 and 1999.

With a chance against a field of 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, Slippery Gator seems perfectly placed to take steps toward his own end-of-season honors.

"My horse has been training well and really runs better on the turf," said trainer George Handy. "I get to keep him against straight 3-year-olds and I'd like to do that as long as I can, but I know he can beat older horses already."

Slippery Gator has won twice in allowance company, once in claiming company at Gulfstream. He also finished first, then was disqualified for interference, in the Old Ironsides Stakes at Suffolk Downs. In his last start, he was a best-of-the-rest runner-up in the Rockingham Derby to New York-shipper Bag of Mischief.

"He ran really well in his last race considering the winner was a Nick Zito-trained horse and looked really tough to beat," said Handy.

Slippery Gator will be the highweight at 121 pounds; the closest competitor to him in the weights is Circus Bar at 116.

Circus Bar hasn't raced since April, when he finished fifth in a first-level allowance race at Philadelphia Park. He has had a start-stop campaign this year, but was busy winning his maiden at Saratoga at this time last year and went on to finish second in the Floyd Duncan Memorial a month later. Trained by Mike Aro, Circus Bar will make his first start on grass in the McHugh.

Other than Slippery Gator, just three of the other eight entrants have won on the grass. Nannie's Sword will get a healthy weight allowance as a filly taking on the boys in her first Rock start since a two-race road trip for trainer Ron Dandy. She won a Belmont claiming race, but finished last in the Cordially Stakes at Delaware. Def and O'Malley are the other two with turf wins on their resumes.

All Line, who was third behind Bag of Mischief and Slippery Gator in the Rock Derby, is 0 for 7 this year but has one of the biggest bankrolls in the McHugh field. His lone turf race was a dull nine-place effort at Calder in early June, but he has finished third in all three New Hampshire starts for trainer John Rigatteri.

Suffolk stakes schedule

Suffolk Downs will offer $450,000 worth of stakes purses during the upcoming autumn season set to begin Saturday, Sept. 28.

The 15-race slate is front-end loaded with open races that will help determine many of this year's regional award winners. With nine additional races for Massachusetts-bred horses Suffolk will offer a stakes race every weekend and on both Columbus Day and Veterans' Day.

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