09/20/2007 12:00AM

Fairbanks scary on front end

EmailEAST BOSTON, Mass. - In the three years since they last ran the Massachusetts Handicap, Todd Pletcher has solidified his standing as the dominant trainer on the continent. He will waste little time trying to impact the showcase event of the Suffolk Downs meet on Saturday by sending out the favorite in Fairbanks.

The Mass Cap card also includes the $100,000 Moseley Sprint Handicap and two $45,000 stakes, the Waquoit and the Collegian.

Like the other top contenders in the $500,000 Mass Cap, Fairbanks seems to fit the revived race well but has questions to answer. He has faced the best of the handicap division all year and has Breeders' Cup aspirations, but needs to step up his game in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race to show he belongs.

Brass Hat has Grade 1 credentials but needs to prove he's still at that level after lengthy injury layoffs the last two years.

Dr. Pleasure is the son of champion mare Beautiful Pleasure and needs to prove he can live up to that family legacy.

Pletcher's stable is so deep that Fairbanks is clearly a third-stringer behind barnmates Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday, yet he is the 7-5 morning-line choice in the Mass Cap.

"Since we are always looking for opportunities to separate our horses and place them in big races, this race was a welcome addition," said Pletcher. "We were trying to decide between the Hawthorne Gold Cup and this race and we thought the shorter shipping trip made more sense for Fairbanks."

Fairbanks, who will have regular jockey Richard Migliore aboard, has been at his best on the front end, earning three of his four wins wire to wire, including the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita in March. That plan failed in both his Grade 1 races this summer, the Suburban and the Woodward.

"He has been successful from just off the pace, so I will leave those tactics up to the Mig," said Pletcher. "With a second-place finish in the Suburban, he showed us that he fits in Grade 1 company."

As a graded stakes winner at longer than a mile this year, Fairbanks is eligible for a $100,000 bonus from Suffolk Downs if he wins the Mass Cap. Palladio is the only other runner in the eight-horse field eligible for the bonus.

Brass Hat comes into Saturday's race off a sixth-place finish in the Woodward and an eighth-place finish in the Whitney Handicap. Trainer Buff Bradley was glad to get out of Saratoga after those two dismal performances by Brass Hat. They came on the heels of a track-record comeback allowance win at Churchill Downs in July.

"I had a feeling he didn't like it there from early in the Whitney," said Bradley. "We decided to stay for the Woodward, thinking he might have bounced a bit off his Churchill race, but it was obvious he just wasn't getting a hold of the track."

Bradley, who trains Brass Hat for his father, Fred, brought the 6-year-old back to Churchill to regroup, and the horse has been feeling frisky.

"He passed a horse near the wire in his last work and he bucked out at him," said Bradley. "It's not easy, but he has a chance to get his confidence back."

Dr. Pleasure's trainer, John Ward, a third-generation Kentucky horseman, is excited about being a part of the Mass Cap's comeback.

"Mass Cap horses have always been household names where I'm from," said Ward, referring to champions such as Whirlaway, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Riva Ridge, and Cigar.

Dr. Pleasure was second in an allowance at Saratoga in his 2007 debut. Micro-fractures were found in his hind ankles after his third-place finish in last year's Travers.

Joe and Mary Grant, the co-owners of Evening Attire, are from Quincy, Mass. They are running their Grade 1-winning gelding in the Mass Cap for the third time. He finished second in 2002 and fifth in 2004.

Palladio is winless in three starts since taking the Grade 3 Eclipse at Woodbine in May.

First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern with the Mass Cap slated for 5:23. It is the 10th of 11 races and anchors an all-stakes pick four.