03/07/2007 12:00AM

Magna Graduate sheds blinkers for Razorback

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Magna Graduate, Student Council, and Sandburr are among the shippers who will take on a deep group of locals, led by Jonesboro and Steppenwolfer, in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Friday.

"I think it's probably the toughest Razorback we've seen in a while," said Randy Morse, who trains 119-pound starting highweight Jonesboro.

The Razorback is the first of three stakes that were moved to Fridays this meet to reward patrons traveling to this resort-town track for a full weekend of racing. The 1 1/16-mile Razorback drew nine horses. Completing the field are stakes winners Kid Grindstone, Red Raymond, and Mr. Pursuit, and the multiple stakes-placed Chippewa Trail.

Magna Graduate, a Grade 2 winner and earner of $1.8 million, is the most accomplished runner in the field. His last win came two starts ago, in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct on Dec. 9, with a Beyer Speed Figure of 110. Last out, Magna Graduate was an uncharacteristic eighth in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream on Feb. 3. But he was bumped soundly at the start, and that bothered him, trainer Todd Pletcher said.

"I think it kind of just set him off," Pletcher said.

Magna Graduate never settled in the race, was aggressive early, then faltered.

"He came back fine after that and he's trained well since then," said Pletcher. "We know he's a better horse than he showed that day, so we're just regrouping and trying again, and taking the blinkers off to hopefully get him to settle a little bit."

Magna Graduate won two races earlier in his career without blinkers. He will break from post 5 under John Velazquez.

"We're going to let him run the race he wants," said Pletcher. "If he wants to be on the lead, we'll let him do that. If he wants to settle, we'll do that."

Jonesboro should be either on or close to the pace. He was a front-running winner of the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap here in his last start Feb. 10, earning a career-best Beyer of 102.

"I thought it was an awfully good race," said Morse. "I'm anxious to see him run. He's doing awfully well."

The Essex was merely the latest strong performance for Jonesboro, who has been on top of his game since winning the $100,000 Sam's Town at Delta Downs on Dec. 1.

"Ever since then, he's just gone forward," said Morse.

Calvin Borel will ride Jonesboro.