12/01/2005 1:00AM

Saint Stephen capable off layoff


NEW YORK - Calder Race Course's Grand Slam I program, consisting of four $100,000 stakes races, is the main event on Saturday's national stakes schedule.

The Grand Slam I races are the Tropical Turf and My Charmer handicaps and the What a Pleasure and Three Ring stakes. The What a Pleasure and Three Ring are for 2-year-olds, while the Tropical Turf and My Charmer are both scheduled to be run on turf and are both Grade 3 races.

Tropical Turf Handicap

Most of the time, you wouldn't want to take a horse coming off a six-month layoff, especially in a stakes race like this, which attracted a full and competitive field. But you can go against this rule if the horse you are interested in has already demonstrated an ability to win off layoffs, and if the race is on the turf. It is much easier for turf horses to return successfully off layoffs because of the forgiving nature of the surface, and also because most turf races are run at a leisurely gallop early and then a sprint home through the final quarter mile.

This applies here because I like Saint Stephen, who will be making his first start since June. In this case, that doesn't bother me. This race is on turf, and when Saint Stephen signaled vast improvement while ripping off three straight wins to start this year, he began his streak off a three-month layoff and capped it with a win off a near two-month layoff. Saint Stephen was so hot that he was sent off at only 9-1 against 10 opponents in his most recent appearance, the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day in June, and was beaten only three lengths. Saint Stephen is backed by a trainer, Christophe Clement, who has solid numbers with horses coming off similar absences.

Dr. A. B. Leggio Memorial

This is one of five - count 'em - sprint stakes for fillies and mares in the U.S. and Canada Saturday, and it is an excellent spot for Josh's Madelyn to get the money and salvage something from what has been a disappointing season.

Josh's Madelyn is only 1 for 8 this year after winning 6 of 9 starts last year. She was at her best late in her campaign last year, when she followed a career-top 104 Beyer Speed Figure romp in an overnight handicap at Ellis Park with the most important win of her career in Keeneland's Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes.

It seems Josh's Madelyn might be a fall filly and is set for another big finish to this year. She came from way back, as is her custom, to get her first win of the season last time out at Keeneland going this seven-furlong distance. Josh's Madelyn's style of closing from downtown should play very well here, what with Tempus Fugit and Southern Surprise likely to hook up early on a quick pace.

Garland of Roses

Here's another one of those sprint stakes for fillies and mares, and Bank Audit will take a lot of beating. She was lightly raced through the summer and fall with a winter campaign in mind, returned to winning form in high style last time out, has an excellent record over Aqueduct's inner track, and figures to sit a nice trip off a fast early pace. But, her price will be unappealingly short.

I'll take a shot with Travelator, who is liable to be an overlay after losses in her last three starts. Those recent losses, however, came at distances longer than the Leggio's six furlongs, and this is by far her best distance. Travelator is also capable of capitalizing on a fast and contested pace, and she upset this race last year.