06/13/2007 12:00AM

Diamond Stripes gets 'rabbit' insurance

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Richard Dutrow Jr. often speaks plainly in instances when other trainers keep mum, such as the sometimes controversial topic of using a "rabbit" for a superior stablemate. From Dutrow's point of view, transparency is quite all right when it comes to trying to manipulate race strategy in a way to further his own chances.

This practice applies to the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, the Grade 1 race for which entries were drawn Wednesday at Churchill Downs. With its 26th running Saturday, and as the anchor of a blockbuster program that also includes five other graded stakes, the Foster is the richest race in America on the first weekend of the post-Triple Crown segment of 2007 - and Dutrow fully intends to win it with an unbeaten, and heretofore unheralded, 4-year-old gelding named Diamond Stripes.

Diamond Stripes, with Edgar Prado to ride, drew the inside post in an eight-horse field that includes Mr. Umphrey, a Dutrow speedster that he unabashedly called "the rabbit." Informed that the 1 1/8-mile Foster drew plenty of speed, even without his rabbit, Dutrow said he would consider scratching Mr. Umphrey.

"I just put the rabbit in there just to make sure everything goes his way," he said, referring to Diamond Stripes.

Not that Diamond Stripes, owned by Four Roses Thoroughbreds, even resembles a plodder. Carefully managed through a four-race career that includes a highly impressive victory in his only previous stakes attempt, the Grade 3 Pegasus at the Meadowlands last October, Diamond Stripes owns tactical speed and a turn of foot that earned him Beyer Figures of 105, 106, and 105 in his last three starts.

"I'm excited about the horse, naturally," said Dutrow, who is scheduled to arrive here Friday from New York. "He's coming into the race the way you'd want. He's a good one. I thought it was about time to run him against the best. We'll see how he handles himself. I believe he has a good shot."

Dutrow was the trainer of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, whose victories during that championship season included the Stephen Foster. Dutrow was under suspension at the time, however, and Bobby Frankel was listed as the trainer of record for the Foster.

Another of Saint Liam's triumphs that year came in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park, where Dutrow used two rabbits, Show Boot and Crafty Player, to wear down the speedy Commentator, setting up an easy score for Saint Liam.

Diamond Stripes will carry 116 pounds in the Foster, which figures to have 123-pound highweight Master Command (post 2, John Velazquez) as a solid favorite. The rest of the Foster field, in post position order, is Magna Graduate, 118, Garrett Gomez; Mr. Umphrey, 112, Phil Teator; Wiggins, 114, Rafael Bejarano; Wanderin Boy, 120, Corey Nakatani; Flashy Bull, 115, Robby Albarado; and Jonesboro, 114, Calvin Borel.

How five other stakes shape up

The Foster is carded as the 10th of 11 races Saturday, with the stakes carded as the last six races. The Grade 2, $300,000 Fleur de Lis (race 9) is another major event, with Asi Siempre (post 4) and Ermine (post 8) having been entered among a field of eight fillies and mares.

In the other Saturday stakes, all Grade 3 events:

* Duveen, already 2 for 2 in stakes, figures as a solid favorite against six other 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Jefferson Cup (race 6) at 1o1/8 miles on turf.

* Chelokee looks like the horse to beat in a field of eight 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup (race 7), a 1 1/16-mile race on the main track. Among the field of eight are Zanjero and Sam P., both making their first start since being soundly beaten in the Kentucky Derby.

* Magnificent Song and Danzon should draw major play among a field of seven fillies and mares in the $150,000 Mint Julep Handicap (race 8).

* Eleven 3-year-old fillies, led by Dreaming of Anna and High Heels, are entered in the program finale, the $200,000 Regret Stakes (race 11).

Curlin back on the track

Curlin returned to training for the first time since he was narrowly defeated by Rags to Riches last Saturday in the Belmont Stakes when he galloped a mile Wednesday morning under the watchful eye of trainer Steve Asmussen.

"He just dropped his head and went off," said Asmussen. "He's an amazing horse."

Asmussen said he most likely will not put Curlin through a serious workout at least through next week. The colt's next start is likely to come in the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

* The high temperature for Saturday has been forecast for 90 degrees, which may seem hot, but there is no way conditions can be as brutal as they were last year. At this exact time last year the heat index soared into triple digits on Foster Day.