09/01/2002 11:00PM

Ibn Al Haitham steps up to win Saranac

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ibn Al Haitham, who stepped out of the maiden ranks in his previous start, became a graded stakes winner on Monday, running gamely in the face of several challenges through the stretch to defeat Finality by a half-length in the $111,500 Saranac Stakes, the closing day feature of the 2002 Saratoga meeting.

Despite finishing second with Finality in the Saranac, trainer Todd Pletcher won his second Saratoga trainer title, defeating defending champ Bill Mott, 19-18. Mott fell short of earning a tie and thus his fourth straight Spa training title when his colt, Miesque's Approval, finished fourth as the 6-5 favorite in the Saranac.

Ibn Al Haitham paid $10.20 after covering 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.30 over a firm turf course with Richard Migliore aboard. A son of Zafonic and Awaasif, Ibn Al Haitham is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.

Ibn Al Haitham didn't win his first race until his eighth start, when switching to the turf for the first time and scoring a 9 1/2 length victory over maiden special weight company earlier in the meet. The competition was decidedly tougher on Monday but McLaughlin was confident his colt could handle it.

"He's trained unbelievably well since he broke his maiden and he has got the back class," McLaughlin said. "It was just the change of surface he was looking for. And Richie rode a fabulous race.

"We thought going in we'd probably be sitting third, but he used his judgment, put him on the lead, and was able to get away with a 49 3/5 half."

Ibn Al Haitham contested the pace with Regal Sanction, forged to command before a mile, then dug in through the stretch to withstand Finality, Irish Colonial, and Miesque's Approval. Finality also raced close up throughout and continued willingly to the end. He finished a head before the late-running Irish Colonial. Miesque's Approval raced well placed, came out for the drive but lacked a rally.

"He was very relaxed in his position, and when I called on him he really finished," said Migliore, who was scheduled to ride Magic Weisner in the Pennsylvania Derby Monday but became available when his mount was scratched from that race late Friday because of a fever.