02/03/2010 12:00AM

Stud Muffin looks to double up


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Beginning in May 2008, Stud Muffin ran in 13 stakes races over a 19-month period, ending with a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap in December at Aqueduct.

While Stud Muffin will likely return to stakes company later this year, his connections have lowered their sights hoping to build the horse's confidence as well as his bankroll. It appeared to work last month when Stud Muffin won a $40,000 starter-allowance race over the inner track. Stud Muffin is back in a similar spot Wednesday, taking on six New York-breds in a statebred starter allowance going one mile.

Stud Muffin won the $250,000 Empire Classic at Belmont in 2008, but went winless in seven stakes thereafter before winning last month. A foot injury kept him from making a repeat bid in the Empire Classic, a race that is a likely target for the 6-year-old in October.

Stud Muffin ran in the Grade 3 Queens County off a three-month layoff and never fired, getting beat 19 lengths by Rodman. But Stud Muffin flashed his old form last month, saving ground early and then kicking home strong when maneuvered to the outside by Ramon Dominguez in the stretch.

Dominguez will be aboard Stud Muffin again from post 7.

"It's like pennies from heaven," trainer David Duggan said about running Stud Muffin in starter handicaps. "It's a great spot to get his confidence back. We had some bad breaks last year, and it's nice to get some" payback.

Executive Search, Be Bullish, and Almighty Silver, who finished second, third, and fourth behind Stud Muffin on Jan. 10, are all back to face him again Wednesday. None of those three rivals had any real excuse last out.

Perhaps Stud Muffin's biggest threat is Dr. W, who tries two turns for the first time since finishing fifth in a race over the inner track two years ago. Dr. W was gelded last summer and has made only two starts since against somewhat tougher opponents. This will be his first race since Nov. 27.

"He's kind of changed since we cut him," said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "We ran him long a long time ago, but he wouldn't settle at all. He seems like he's a little bit different now."

* Wednesday's first race is a starter handicap restricted to gray or roan horses. Najarans Star, a mare taking on males, has won three of her last four. She is trained by Richard Dutrow Jr.