Updated on 09/17/2011 10:43AM

Stars collide in Brooklyn and Foster

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Horsephotos
Mineshaft (left) seeks his fourth straight graded victory in the Stephen Foster at Churchill. Western Pride (right) is favored in the Californian at Hollywood Park. Volponi (bottom), BC Classic winner, heads the tough Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Of the three major stakes races in the handicap division this weekend, the one with the smallest purse is the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park. It is also the one with the strongest field.

Grade 1 winners Volponi, Harlan's Holiday, and Evening Attire, and Metropolitan Handicap runner-up Saarland head a six-horse field entered for the Grade 2 Brooklyn, which drew a deeper field than either the Grade 1, $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs or the $400,000 Californian at Hollywood the same day.

"If they had any class they'd boost the purse before they drew the entries," said Phil Johnson, trainer of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi, who drew post 3 and is one of three highweights at 122 pounds.

The Brooklyn also is the first leg of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Summer Pick Three wager. The bet, which can be accessed by asking for Belmont Park race 9 at tracks throughout the country, also includes the Leonard Richards Stakes from Delaware Park and the Stephen Foster. All three races will be televised live on CBS from 5-6 p.m. Eastern as the NTRA kicks off its Summer Racing Tour.

Volponi, who upset the Classic at odds of 43-1 last October, finished second in his seasonal debut at Belmont last month. In that seven-furlong race, Volponi raced five wide in the stretch and finished a neck behind Speightstown.

"I liked it very much," said Johnson, who won the Brooklyn in 1978 with Nasty and Bold. "He's not a fast horse out of the gate. Even in the Breeders' Cup he walked out of the gate. He had to go wide and he only got beat a neck."

Harlan's Holiday, who finished ninth in last year's Classic, is 2 for 3 this year, including a victory in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. He finished second to the front-running Moon Ballad in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29. The Brooklyn will be his first start since then.

One overblown theory is that North American-based horses coming back from Dubai have trouble regaining their top form. But horses such as Cigar, Victory Gallop, Silver Charm, and Captain Steve all either won or were second in their first U.S. start back from Dubai.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has liked what he has seen from Harlan's Holiday in the morning and expects a top effort on Saturday. John Velazquez rides from the rail.

"At this point I'd be really surprised if he didn't come back as good or better than before he went," Pletcher said. "That doesn't mean he has to win it, this is a tough race. But I think he'll run as good as he can. He couldn't look any better and he's trained forwardly."

Harlan's Holiday may have a tactical edge over Volponi, Evening Attire, and Saarland, and he figures to be stalking Iron Deputy early on.

"I think we're better off with a target," Pletcher said. "He's got positional speed. If all the players they're talking about running show up, Iron Deputy would be the main pace and we'd be tracking him."

Evening Attire, who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year, completed his 2002 campaign with an eight-length victory in the off-the-turf Red Smith Handicap last November. Evening Attire prefers to do his running from off the pace, though having not raced in 213 days, he may show more speed than usual.

"Coming off the layoff he may be on the muscle," trainer Pat Kelly said. "He was on the muscle coming off the layoff last spring."

Saarland's closing kick makes him a stretch threat. He ran out of real estate in the Met Mile when he fell a neck short to Aldebaran. His lone stakes win came in the Remsen, also at nine furlongs.

An illustration of how competitive the Brooklyn is, a horse trained by Bobby Frankel is likely to be the longest shot on the board - El Gran Papa, who is coming off a sharp allowance victory on dirt, but his lone stakes success came on turf.