08/30/2011 3:45PM

Saratoga: Dark Thunder in fine form

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Tom Keyser
Dark Thunder, with John Velazquez riding, wins a $75,000 optional claiming race for his third straight victory.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher has Dark Thunder primed for another big performance when he makes his stakes debut in the seven-furlong, $75,000 Island Whirl at Saratoga on Thursday. Dark Thunder has run through his allowance conditions in smart fashion, winning each of his last three starts, including a third-level, high-priced optional claiming race by a length despite a wide trip here on July 30.

"He's in excellent form and he's continued to step up each time we've raised him in class," said Pletcher. "This is a very competitive race, but I'm very happy with the outside post, and he's in such good form at the moment I'm optimistic he can do it again."

Avenging Spirit brings a slightly more modest two-race win streak into the Island Whirl and could prove the horse to catch breaking from the rail.

Bank Merger, overmatched in the Grade  1 Vanderbilt, was an easy allowance winner earlier this summer at Belmont Park and ran one of the best races of his career over this track last summer when second in the Grade  1 King's Bishop.

The multiple stakes winner Congressional Page, stakes winner Rule by Night, and Litigation Risk complete the field.