10/02/2007 11:00PM

Hard to knock this favorite

EmailEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - If you judge a horse by the company he has kept, then Diamond Stripes will be a very deserving favorite Friday night in the Grade 2, $500,000 Meadowlands Cup at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Cup night is the highlight of the meet and the Big M will support its signature event with three undercard stakes on an 11-race program.

Diamond Stripes faces six rivals in the 1 1/8-mile race at the scene of his greatest triumph. He stretched his unbeaten streak to three last season with a 1 1/2-length victory in the Gradeo3 Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds.

"This was part of the plan," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "I like running horses over tracks that I know they like."

The Pegasus was the final race of the horse's campaign.

Diamond Stripes started 2007 with an allowance win at Aqueduct in April before stepping up for three consecutive Grade 1 handicaps against some of the elite runners in the division.

He ran third in all three, finishing only a half-length behind Flashy Bull in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs before heading to Saratoga to twice earn the show spot behind Horse of the Year contender Lawyer Ron in the Whitney and Woodward.

"He's been keeping pretty good company his last three races," Dutrow said. "He's been running as good as he can. He ran a good race at Churchill. At Saratoga, it looks like Lawyer Ron beat him up pretty good, but he wasn't that far out of it for second in either race. He's had a good campaign this year. We can't complain."

In addition to his gaudy company lines, Diamond Stripes holds a huge edge over this field with respect to Beyer Speed Figures. He has run six straight triple-digit Beyers, a level of quality and consistency unmatched by any rival.

Based on what happens Friday, Dutrow will evaluate Diamond Stripes's Breeders' Cup prospects. The Classic is under consideration. So is the new Dirt Mile.

"If he runs big, naturally we'd be looking at one of those races at Monmouth," Dutrow said.

Cornelio Velasquez rides for the first time.

Completing the field are Magna Graduate, winner of the 2005 Pegasus; Utopia, a Group 1 winner in Japan who earned a front-running victory in the 2006 Group 2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai; Pennsylvania Derby runner-up Xchanger; Praying for Cash, second to Bluegrass Cat in last year's Haskell Invitational at Monmouth; Awfully Smart; and Mr. Umphrey, an uncoupled stablemate of Diamond Stripes.