09/05/2009 11:00PM

Saranac cast a tough eight

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Barbara D. Livingston
Sal the Barber, with Daniel Luna riding, hits the track at Saratoga on Friday in preparation for his Saranac start.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Owner-breeder Lewis Schaffel's roots in Brooklyn provided Sal the Barber with his colorful and very appropriate name. As it has turned out, Sal the Barber, the 3-year-old colt who is the 5-2 morning line favorite in Sunday's Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga, has been involved in a few close shaves during his short career.

The late Major League pitcher Sal Maglie, who played for several teams in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the New York Yankees, was the original Sal the Barber. He picked up the nickname for his willingness to pitch inside - around the chin, if need be - to keep batters from crowding the plate.

Trained by Christophe Clement, Sal the Barber has been in the thick of the competition in each of his five starts and has compiled a record of 2-1-2. In his most recent start, he finished second by 1 3/4 lengths to Courageous Cat in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes. Before that, he won the Don Jackson, an overnight stakes July 1 at Belmont.

Sal the Barber will face seven other 3-year-olds in the Saranac. The lineup includes three other Hall of Fame Stakes runners: Al Khali, who was third; Dogwood Stable's Lime Rickey, who was sixth; and El Crespo, who was last of the 10. Completing the field are Uncle T Seven, trying a graded stakes after a New York Stallion Stakes victory; Canadian invader Reservoir, who was third in the Breeders', the final race of the Canadian Triple Crown; Overbrook Farm's Armstrong Mill, also trained by Clement; and Blank Check, trained by Saratoga Springs native Terri Pompay.

Al Khali was cross-entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, but Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said it more likely that the Medaglia d'Oro ridgling would run in the Saranac.

Clement isn't sure whether Sal the Barber will relish being asked to stretch out a bit more to the Saranac's 1 3/16-mile distance over the Mellon turf course. Both of his wins have come at 1 1/8 miles.

"He's never done it, but he looks like he will," Clement said. "We're running him back a little bit quick, but he looks well, and he's a nice horse."

Al Khali was moved to Mott's care a few weeks before the Hall of Fame stakes. He has had a bit more time to assess the Kentucky-bred Al Khali, who began his career in Peru.

"He's a big, scopey, rangy kind of horse that seems to have taken to the grass," Mott said. "He seems to have found a little bit of a home there. He ran well for us."