12/07/2009 12:00AM

Stud Muffin's time to start over

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Last year at this time, Stud Muffin was enjoying a winter vacation after a successful 4-year-old campaign in which he won the Empire Classic and banked nearly $300,000. Had things gone according to plan in 2009, Stud Muffin would likely be about to embark on another winter hiatus.

But little went right for Stud Muffin in 2009. He lost all five of his starts and suffered a significant foot injury in the Funny Cide Stakes on Aug. 28 at Saratoga. That's why instead of starting a break, Stud Muffin is starting over. Following a satisfactory workout Monday at Belmont Park, trainer David Duggan pronounced Stud Muffin fit and ready to go in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Queens County Handicap.

"We're back on track,'' Duggan said after Stud Muffin went five furlongs in 1:02 over the training track. Stud Muffin broke two lengths behind his stablemate Regal Coyote, collared him at the wire, and galloped out slightly past him a furlong past the wire.

Duggan said that Stud Muffin tore off the frog, the shock-absorbing part of a front foot, during the running of the Funny Cide Stakes, in which he finished fourth to Future Prospect. Duggan simply had to give the horse time off to allow the foot to grow back properly, which caused him to miss a run at a second consecutive Empire Classic, the richest race for New York-breds 3-years-old and up.

"Gut-wrenching," Duggan said of the Empire Classic. "Didn't watch it. Got the results on the computer. But it's nice to have the horse back. The injury warranted time off and it wasn't anything career ending. I have a horse for the winter. It might be a blessing in disguise.''

The Queens County is run at 1 3/16 miles, which might be a bit much for a horse coming off a four-month layoff.

"Not an issue,'' Duggan said. "It's his game I think.''

Others pointing to the Queens County include last year's winner, Researcher, Honour Devil, and Rodman. The racing office is hopeful of getting a fifth starter. On Monday, Rodman worked five furlongs in 1:02.43.

Jerkens heads south on positive note

Jimmy Jerkens will not be sad to see 2009 come to a close. What began as a promising year - winning the Florida Derby with Quality Road - turned sour when Ed Evans, owner of Quality Road, transferred his horses from Jerkens in June. Last month, Susan and John Moore - longtime Jerkens clients - moved their horses to Tony Dutrow.

But in Afleet Express, Jerkens may have something to look forward to in 2010. Afleet Express, a 2-year-old son of Afleet Alex, overcame a horrific start and rallied from last to win a six-furlong maiden race by 1o1/2 lengths Saturday at Aqueduct. He ran six furlongs in 1:12.58 over a muddy track and earned a 76 Beyer.

Afleet Express was squeezed back at the start when the horses on either side of him came into his path. He spotted the field several lengths.

"Usually when that happens they run up and then they just run even the rest of the way,'' Jerkens said Monday. "He kicked in again once he got clear. It was nice to see.''

Jerkens is hopeful that Afleet Express, a $225,000 yearling purchase by Gainesway Stable, can stretch out in distance. He is out of a Distant View mare named Expanse, a half-sister to the stakes-winning Eye of the Tiger.

"I think he's got some stamina on his dam side,'' Jerkens said. "He acts like he can do it by the way he trains and by the way his stride is.''

Afleet Express was scheduled to ship to Palm Meadows on Tuesday along with 11 other Jerkens-trained horses. Jerkens is expected to pick up six more when he gets there, including Cocktail Hour, a 2-year-old full sister to the Grade 1-winning turf mare Film Maker.

Ibboyee to winter in New York

Ibboyee, who overcame a stumbling start to win Sunday's Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-bred juvenile males by 2 1/2 lengths, will stay in New York for the winter, trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday. Pletcher said he would look to take advantage of Ibboyee's status as a New York-bred, but didn't rule out running him in open company 3-year-old stakes such as the Count Fleet on Jan. 2.

"We'll try to take advantage of him being a New York-bred, but we're open-minded to try some open company if there's no other options,'' Pletcher said Monday. "He's earned a shot trying open company. He's done everything pretty well so far.''

The Damon Runyon was the fourth win from five starts for Ibboyee and his third stakes victory this year. He is a son of Medallist owned by Anita and Stuart Sobotnick.

Pletcher said that Awesome Ashley and Distorted Passion, the first- and third-place finishers from Saturday's Garland of Roses Handicap, would most likely run back in the Interborough Handicap on New Year's Day. That could be the last start for Distorted Passion, who is scheduled to be sold at auction in January. Awesome Ashley could also start in the Correction on Jan. 30.

Opus A may go to Florida

Opus A, who overcame an adventurous trip to win the East View Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies, may head to south Florida, but not necessarily for her next start. Opus A, who was wearing blinkers for the first time, gave jockey Alan Garcia all kinds of trouble before finally kicking in while seven wide in the final three-sixteenths of a mile.

"She was out of control for seven-eighths of the race basically,'' trainer Rick Violette said. "I was literally cursing myself till about the three-sixteenths pole for putting blinkers on her.''

Violette said he may ship Opus A to the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida, where he knows he could train her on a more consistent basis than perhaps he could during the winter at Aqueduct.

"She's a raw talent right now. Somehow we got to refine,'' Violette said.

* On Friday, jockey Mike Luzzi will begin serving a careless riding suspension from earlier in the year that will keep him sidelined until Dec. 30. During that time, Luzzi will undergo surgery to remove polyps from his nose. Luzzi said the polyps have existed for a while and have cost him his sense of smell.

* Rajiv Maragh and Eddie Castro will miss this week of racing as they have dropped appeals of careless riding suspensions handed them by the stewards in May.