10/04/2007 12:00AM

The Tin Man goes for a triple

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - The Tin Man just does not know when to quit.

At the age of 9, he will make the fourth appearance of his career in the $250,000 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Saturday, seeking his third win in the race.

The Tin Man won the Hirsch in 2002 as a 4-year-old and in his final start of 2006, a campaign that included 4 wins in 5 starts and earnings of $1,990,000.

This year, all he has done is win the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in his comeback in May and finish second in the American Handicap and Arlington Million during the summer, earning $486,920 in those starts for owners Ralph and Aury Todd.

In each race, The Tin Man turned for home on or near the lead, fought for the lead through the stretch, and won or lost by less than a length. It is that sort of mettle that has given him a career record of 13 wins in 30 starts, 8 stakes wins and earnings of $3,613,780.

It is those accomplishments that will make him the favorite to win the Grade 1 Hirsch over 1 1/4 miles on turf again on Saturday.

"It doesn't get easier, but he does give it a good battle," said his admiring trainer, Richard Mandella. "He's such a professional at this stage, as well as a good horse."

The Tin Man's style makes him dangerous from the start, at any distance. With the The Tin Man's ability to race near a slow pace or stalk a fast one, jockey Victor Espinoza has many options.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead," Mandella said. "It would be against the grain to take his speed away."

Last year, The Tin Man won the Clement Hirsch by a head, leading throughout and holding off a furious rush in the final sixteenth from T.H. Approval. He may inherit the lead on Saturday against seven rivals, none of whom is a pronounced front-runner.

Republican Hawk, who is making his stakes debut, can race near the front, but his ability is suspect. Republican Hawk finished second in an optional claimer at Del Mar in late July, his first start in 25 months.

The main threats are the second- through fourth-place finishers in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 26 - Runaway Dancer, Spring House, and Toasted - all of whom finished less than a length behind the race's winner, After Market.

Of the others, Artiste Royal, third in the 2006 Hirsch, is making his second start of the year after a troubled third in an optional claimer at Del Mar on Sept. 2. A group stakes winner in France in 2005, Artiste Royal is winless in nine starts in this country. Isipingo, third in the Del Mar Mile on Aug. 19, is looking to rebound from a dull fifth in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 22.

Runaway Dancer, a veteran himself at the age of 8, will be closing from the back. He won the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 15, his fourth stakes win.

Trainer Dan Hendricks said he "can't really pinpoint" why Runaway Dancer is still a top horse at an advanced age. "He's been in the system for a long time and is doing well," Hendricks said. "We don't run him that often, and we give him the winters off. It seems to be working."

But even Runaway Dancer's best may not be good enough to conquer The Tin Man, who could be on his way to the Breeders' Cup Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 if he runs well on Saturday. The Tin Man was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2002 and 2003, but that race was not foremost on Mandella's mind earlier this week.

"Right now, we have the matter at hand," he said. "I won't think too much about that until after Saturday."