10/03/2007 12:00AM

Diamond Stripes heads Classic prep finale

EmailDiamond Stripes won the Pegasus Handicap last year at the Meadowlands in only his third lifetime start. On Friday night, he will return there for the Grade 2, $500,000 Meadowlands Cup, which offers Diamond Stripes a chance to face slightly softer competition after knocking heads with the likes of Lawyer Ron this summer at Saratoga.

The Meadowlands Cup is the last major prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but many of the horses in the Meadowlands Cup, Diamond Stripes included, might end up going in the inaugural BC Dirt Mile because the Classic is coming up such a salty race.

A field of seven was entered on Wednesday in the 1 1/8-mile Meadowlands Cup, including Magna Graduate and Praying for Cash. None are of the caliber of Lawyer Ron, which gives Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Diamond Stripes, confidence that Diamond Stripes can get back to the winner's circle.

"I think he'll win," Dutrow said Wednesday. "He's doing very well, and he likes the Meadowlands."

Dutrow said he chose the Meadowlands Cup, rather than a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, "because he likes the Meadowlands, it's a big purse, and nothing's going in the race."

In his last two starts, Diamond Stripes finished third at Saratoga in both the Whitney and Woodward. He has won twice at 1 1/8 miles, but has yet to race 1 1/4 miles.

"I'm looking at the Classic" - which is at 1o1/4 miles - "or the Dirt Mile," Dutrow said. "It's just going to depend on how he shows up Friday, and how he comes out of the race."

Praying for Cash is making only his third start since switching to the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. In his only previous race at 1 1/8 miles, he was a distant second to Bluegrass Cat in last year's Haskell Invitational. If he goes to the Breeders' Cup, the Dirt Mile seems a much more suitable option.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin was loaded with older horses, including the reigning Horse of the Year, Invasor. He also had Flashy Bull and Jazil. But all three have been injured and retired.

Despite that, McLaughlin said he doesn't wonder what might have been. "I don't look back and say I wish I could've or should've," he said. "I like to look forward and stay positive, stayed focused on tomorrow."