11/29/2007 12:00AM

Digger faces elders in return to Laurel

EmailAfter dominating 3-year-old stakes runners in his last two visits to Maryland, the New York-based Digger will face older horses for the first time in Saturday's $60,000 Jennings Handicap at Laurel Park.

Digger, who has been training at Aqueduct with Rick Dutrow, has been first or second in 7 of his 8 starts at Laurel, including a 3 1/4-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Northern Dancer on Nov. 3 and an 11 3/4-length romp in the one-mile Deputed Testamony.

His Beyer Speed Figures in those two victories, a 101 and 102, compare favorably with past winners of the nine-furlong Jennings, named in honor of William Jennings Sr., one of Maryland's all-time great horsemen and the breeder, owner, and trainer of 1887 Preakness winner Dunboyne.

Four of the last six runnings of the Jennings have been won with Beyers between 99 and 104.

One of the exceptions came last year when Easy Red rallied from 10 lengths back to get up by a head at 13-1, earning a 91 Beyer. Easy Red is back to defend his title, but has gone 0 for 7 since the 2006 Jennings and is only 1 for 11 lifetime at Laurel.

Based on Beyers, the only two horses who seem capable of running fast enough to challenge Digger are Forty Crowns and Evil Storm.

Forty Crowns returns to the dirt, where he is 3 for 11 lifetime, after one very good effort and one flop on the turf. A front-runner who could put pressure on the speedy Digger, Forty Crowns ran the fastest race of his career winning the 2006 Northern Dancer with a 102 Beyer. He then bounced and was no factor in the Jennings.

If a speed duel should develop, it could serve as an ideal setup for Evil Storm. The 6-year-old Evil Storm has raced just twice since late June, but comes off a decisive score and a career-best 100 Beyer in the Maryland Million Classic at 1 3/16 miles. He owns a 4-for-10 record over Laurel's main track.