09/23/2008 11:00PM

Duggan says Stud Muffin loves Belmont

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ELMONT, N.Y. - It's not that Stud Muffin ran poorly in two stakes tries at Saratoga, it's just that trainer David Duggan believes the New York-bred 4-year-old colt is a better horse at Belmont Park. A much better horse.

"He's five lengths a better horse at Belmont," Duggan said. "It's home-court advantage with him."

If Duggan's assessment is correct, Stud Muffin figures the horse to beat in Friday's $75,000 Salute Me Sir Stakes at Belmont Park. The Salute Me Sir, run at 1 1/16 miles over the main track, could be used as a stepping-stone to the $250,000 Empire Classic here on the Oct. 18 New York Showcase Day card.

Duggan claimed Stud Muffin for $35,000 at Aqueduct on March 13. Three starts later, Stud Muffin won the Noble Nashua Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over Belmont's main track, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

In two starts at Saratoga, Stud Muffin was beaten one length by Dr. D.F.C. in the Solomon Northup Stakes before running third behind Tommasi and Dr. D.F.C. in the Loudonville Stakes. Both of those races were contested at 1 1/8 miles.

In the Solomon Northup, Stud Muffin got fanned four wide at the quarter pole while Dr. D.F.C. split horses along the inside and won by a length. In the Loudonville, Tommasi got away with leisurely fractions and went gate to wire.

"I was stuck down on the inside and the pace got me," Duggan said of the last race, "and I was a little unlucky the time before that. I think back at Belmont, the structure of the track makes him a little better horse and he's doing great."

Duggan also believes the prospect of a wet track could help Stud Muffin as well. Stud Muffin will break from the rail under John Velazquez.

In the Noble Nashua, Stud Muffin took advantage of some strong early fractions. Those were set by Stormin Normandy, who is back in this field. He figures to get confronted at some point by R Clear Victory and/or Run Red Run.

Dr. D.F.C. won his only race at Belmont, a second-level statebred allowance in his seasonal debut in July. His last four races have all been very good, including a narrow open-company loss to Acai, who was an unlucky loser in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

At this time last year, Run Red Run was getting good, winning an allowance race and running a strong third in the Empire Classic after pressing the pace. He enters this race off a last-place finish in the John Morrissey Stakes going six furlongs at Saratoga.