05/11/2005 12:00AM

Key factors aligning for Magna Graduate


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Everything seems to be coming together for Magna Graduate, one of the top choices in a competitive Grade 3, $300,000 Walmac Lone Star Derby on Saturday. The timing of the race is right, the 1 1/16-mile distance suits him, and he will have the services of a top-class rider in Gary Stevens.

Magna Graduate flew into Lone Star Park on Wednesday from Churchill Downs. He last raced on April 9, finishing third to Greeley's Galaxy in the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course. Before that 1 1/8-mile race, he was a close fourth to Flower Alley in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park, another nine-furlong race, on March 26.

"I think he's an improving colt," said Patrick Byrne, who trains Magna Graduate for Elisabeth Alexander. "He's a late-April foal, and he's going to get better. Gary said this horse is just coming around."

Stevens, now based at Churchill Downs, has worked Magna Graduate twice, with the colt's latest drill a five-furlong breeze in 1:02.20 on May 6. Byrne said the five weeks between the Illinois Derby and the Lone Star Derby should suit Magna Graduate.

He ran one of the biggest races of his career following a little longer layoff, when he won the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at 1 1/16 miles at Turfway Park on March 5, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 90. One start before that, he was third to the eventual Florida Derby winner, High Fly, in the $125,000 Aventura at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 8.

Magna Graduate has worked twice since the Illinois Derby in preparation for the Lone Star Derby, once on turf. Byrne had nominated Magna Graduate, who has grass influences in his pedigree, to the Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill, and while the trainer said turf is an option later in the year, dirt racing is in Magna Graduate's immediate future.

"Mrs. Alexander is from Ohio, and she really wants to run in the Ohio Derby," said Byrne.

The Grade 2, $350,000 Ohio Derby will be held at Thistledown on July 2.

The Lone Star Derby is shaping up as a great betting race, and as of Wednesday morning there were 13 probables. Darren Rogers, spokesman for Lone Star, is also expecting Awesome Twist, Barometer Rising, Forever Wild, General Charley, Munificence, Real Dandy, Shamoan, Southern Africa, Storm Surge, Thor's Echo, War Bridle, and Yes He's a Pistol.

Airport bustling with equine arrivals

Magna Graduate was accompanied on his Kentucky-to-Texas flight by Storm Surge, Forever Wild, and Real Dandy. The horses rolled into the Lone Star backstretch about 10:30 a.m. Central. Two Thursday flights were scheduled to bring additional horses to Texas.

Thor's Echo, Southern Africa, Yes He's a Pistol, and Shamoan are due in from Southern California, while Awesome Twist is scheduled to arrive via a FedEx charter from Newark, N.J.

Prince T. was expected to start in the Lone Star Derby but will pass, and his defection, along with two other horses with higher earnings, makes room in the gate for Barometer Rising. Based at Lone Star with trainer Danny Pish, he has won his last two starts, a maiden and an entry-level allowance.

"We're going to take a swing at it, and he'll probably be a longshot," said Pish. "Maybe we'll be another Giacomo."

Back to dirt for Orphan Brigade

Orphan Brigade, a neck winner of the $40,000 Littlebitlively overnight stakes on turf in his last start April 22, will move back to dirt, the surface of 7 of his 8 career wins, in the featured ninth Friday night at Lone Star.

The six-furlong race is an allowance that carries an optional claiming price of $50,000.

Orphan Brigade last won on dirt in February, when he led throughout for a half-length win in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance at Fair Grounds. Trainer Bret Calhoun has given the mount to Cliff Berry, who is winning with 21 percent of his starters this meet at Lone Star.