07/26/2008 12:00AM

Rising Moon set to bounce back

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rising Moon (left) says hello to his stablemate Delta Sea on Thursday at Saratoga. Rising Moon will run in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. and jockey Cornelio Velasquez were both supremely confident in their chances to win last month's Grade 1 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

While Dutrow did indeed win the race, it wasn't with the horse Velasquez was riding for him. Dutrow won it with 40-1 shot Frost Giant, while Rising Moon, the horse Dutrow thought would win, finished third.

Rising Moon emerged from that race with a lung infection, which explained the lackluster performance. With that cleared up and with two good workouts under Rising Moon's belt, Dutrow and Velasquez are once again feeling good about their chances in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

"I thought he couldn't lose the Suburban, but he was sick," Velasquez said. "I worked him [on July 18] and he's in good condition now, and I think he has a good chance in the big race."

The Whitney is the biggest event on an 11-race card that includes the Grade 1 Diana Stakes, the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap, and the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. All four stakes are part of the Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In program, meaning the winner of each race earns an automatic berth into their respective Breeders' Cup divisional races. ABC Sports will broadcast the four stakes live in a two-hour program beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. The four stakes also make up a pick-four wager with a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

There are three Eclipse champions racing on the card, Ginger Punch in the Go for Wand, Wait a While in the Diana, and Thor's Echo in the Vanderbilt.

The Whitney drew a competitive field of 11, with 2005 Whitney winner Commentator a potential lukewarm favorite.

Rising Moon is one of just three horses in the field without a graded stakes win. After myriad injuries that required surgery, Rising Moon won four consecutive races over a 15-month period. He was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths in the Suburban, after which he scoped with mucus in his lungs.

Dutrow said the discovery of the illness explained Rising Moon's performance.

"Like with Big Brown [in the Belmont Stakes], I was very disappointed because I couldn't put my finger on anything," Dutrow said. "When you can see there's a reason, you're disappointed you didn't win, but you're not disappointed with the horse."

Rising Moon has worked twice at Aqueduct since the Suburban and has scoped clean both times.

"We're out of the woods there," Dutrow said. "We need our horse to run his race, that's what we need."

In 2005, Commentator beat the Dutrow-trained Saint Liam in the Whitney. Saint Liam would go on to earn Horse of the Year honors. Now 7, Commentator is seeking to become the second-oldest horse to win the Whitney. Kelso won his third Whitney in five years at age 8 in 1965.

Commentator, owned by Tracy Farmer and trained by Nick Zito, has not raced around two turns since that Whitney, but is in excellent form with two blowout wins at Gulfstream and a gritty second-place finish to Divine Park in the Metropolitan Handicap in May.

"It's probably stretching his limit, but he won the Whitney three years ago," Zito said. "Mr. Farmer told me one thing: There's a lot of money around the country, but he'd like to try to win the Whitney if he could."

Commentator, the 120-pound highweight, breaks from the rail under John Velazquez. He could face pace pressure from the likes of Tasteyville and Timber Reserve. Tasteyville would move up on a wet track and is stretching out off a second in the Tom Fool. Timber Reserve, winner of the Pennsylvania Derby last year, is making his first start since a 10th-place finish in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope. Timber Reserve was plagued by foot problems for most of the winter and spring.

Student Council could be the horse to beat if he runs. His connections were pointing to the Pacific Classic - a race he won last year - at Del Mar on Aug. 24, but the horse trained so well here Monday that owner Ro Parra and trainer Steve Asmussen entered in this spot to take a look.

Student Council finished third in the Hollywood Gold Cup after winning the Grade 1 Pimlico Special in the mud on May 16.

"I loved his Pimlico Special, I thought it was a very good race," Asmussen said. "He was shuffled back, the pace was reasonable, I thought he earned the victory. I don't think it was just handed to him. The race didn't sort out exactly the way you'd expect it to, and he still did enough to get up and win."

Another intriguing member of this field is Notional, who has won 4 of 5 starts on dirt. He is coming off a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile Handicap on July 5. That earned him a spot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. A victory here would earn him a spot in the BC Classic.

Last summer, Grasshopper gave Street Sense all he could handle before losing by a half-length in the Travers. He is only 1 for 6 since, but returning to his favorite course could be a plus for the Neil Howard-trained colt.

A.P. Arrow and Cowtown Cat - an uncoupled entry from Todd Pletcher - Merchant Marine, and Solar Flare complete the field.