01/15/2010 12:00AM

A resurgent Digger has an edge


A three-time stakes winner in Maryland as a 3-year-old, Digger looked like he would never reach those heights again when he dropped all the way down to a $25,000 claiming price to begin his 5-year-old campaign last April. By December, however, he had worked his way back up the class ladder to win the Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct, matching the Beyer Speed Figure of 101 he earned more than two years earlier winning the Northern Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park.

Digger, now 6, returns to Laurel, where he has been at least second in 8 of 10 career starts, for the first time in two years for Saturday's $50,000 Fire Plug Stakes.

The six-furlong sprint for older horses drew a field of eight, led by Ravalo, the runner-up in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash in October.

Digger, now in the barn of Bruce Brown after making four starts for Scott Lake, is part of a Repole Stable-owned coupled entry with Roaring Lion, winner of the Maryland Million Sprint in September.

Based on Brown's recent record with horses coming off a big win first time back following a layoff, it's unlikely Digger will bounce following his nose victory in the Gravesend three weeks ago. Of the last five horses Brown has sent out to win first time back from a layoff, four repeated, producing an outstanding return on investment of $10.84, according to DRF's Formulator.

Digger's fondness for Laurel, where he has recorded 5 of his 12 victories, may give him an edge over the classy Ravalo.

Despite his 13-for-29 lifetime record, which includes 10 stakes victories at sprint distances, Ravalo is 0 for 5 at Laurel. He comes back three weeks after giving up the lead and settling for second as the 2-5 favorite in the Christmas Stakes at Mountaineer.

Ravalo is using the Fire Plug as a tune-up for the Grade 2, $150,000 General George Handicap, a seven-furlong race scheduled for Feb. 15.

Trainer Donald Barr said he would prefer to see Ravalo stalk the speed in Saturday's race.

"Since we are using this for the General George, which at seven [furlongs] is a completely different race, I am hoping we'll lay off the pace a little bit," Barr said. "Ideally, we'd run very similar to the De Francis, where we were in striking position but not banging heads up front."

The most intriguing horse with upset potential is Malibu Kid, who ran three of the best races of his career last winter at Laurel, including a third-place finish in the Grade 2 General George Handicap. He has been off since November, but the last time Malibu Kid came back from a similar break, he produced a career-best 102 Beyer locally.