Trainer David Duggan had always believed that Stud Muffin would deliver as a racehorse. He felt that way when he claimed him for $35,000 back in March and he felt that way even after the 4-year-old Raffie’s Majesty colt won two of his next six starts.

But it was the seventh start, the Empire Classic on Belmont Park’s New York Showcase Day, where Stud Muffin came through for his boss. His 1 ½-length victory was all Duggan needed to be convinced that Stud Muffin had finally arrived.

That victory also earned Stud Muffin a place in the starting gate for Saturday’s 58th running of the Grade 3, $100,000-added Stuyvesant Handicap. The nine-furlong Stuyvesant, the featured eighth race (3:44 p.m.) of a nine-race card, will mark Stud Muffin’s first graded-stakes appearance.

This is a perfect spot for Stud Muffin, who not only exits a big victory, but returns to Aqueduct, where he has won two of three starts.

“He’s a much different horse,” Duggan said. “He had run some very good races when we claimed him, and we really thought we were getting a turf horse because he has a tremendous stride on him. He was a bit of an unlucky horse in his two races at Saratoga: he steadied in one and was stuck down inside in another. But he always kept running at the end.

“In his race before the Empire Classic, the track was like soup. He never liked it and (jockey) Johnny Velazquez said to just throw the race out. In the Empire Classic, he got it all together. At the quarter-pole, he was sitting just off the lead and then split horses. He was a different horse. It may be that he is a cold weather horse, or simply that he has gotten stronger over the last six months. He definitely is not out of place in this race.”

Jockey Alan Garcia, who was aboard for the Empire Classic, has the return mount on Saturday.

Always dangerous, trainer Larry Jones ships in with Argentina-bred Solar Flare. Jones, who on Wednesday was announced as the winner of the Turf Publicists of America’s prestigious Big Sport of Turfdom Award, has Solar Flare on a proper course for the Stuyvesant. Second to Frost Giant in Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Suburban Handicap, Solar Flare put in a pair of dull efforts and was given a brief rest before coming back to win an open claiming event at The Meadowlands on October 27.

The 4-year-old Salt Lake colt has trained steadily at Fair Hill, Md. After running a distant seventh to Commentator in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Whitney on July 26, Solar Flare then appeared with front bandages when he raced third in the slop in Delaware Park’s Owners Day Handicap on September 6.

“He had sprained an ankle at Saratoga and we might have run back a little too soon at Delaware,” Jones said. “He re-aggravated his ankle in the slop, so we decided to give him a little break and let him get over that. He’s been training very well and that race at The Meadowlands was just the right prep we were looking for this race. It wasn’t too taxing and he should be tight enough for this race.”

Jockey Terry Thompson will be aboard.

Both Ravel and Dry Martini, are winless this year, and respective trainers Todd Pletcher and Billy Turner will try to change their fortunes with the addition of blinkers in the Stuyvesant.

Brilliant Son, who just missed on turf at Keeneland on October 19, goes back to the dirt for this race, while Temporary Saint, who has a record of 4-2-2 from nine starts this year, was supplemented to the Stuyvesant.

Trainer John Terranova has chosen the Stuyvesant for the 2008 debut of 4-year-old Helsinki, who has not raced since a fifth-place finish in the Discovery Handicap on November 24, 2007.

The field for Saturday’s 58th running of the Grade 3 Stuyvesant Handicap:

1. Phil the Power Joe Orseno Eibar Coa 115
2. Stud Muffin David Duggan Alan Garcia 114
3. Helsinki John Terranova Cornelio Velasquez 115
4. Brilliant Son Kiaran McLaughlin Rajiv Maragh 114
5. Solar Flare (ARG) Larry Jones Terry Thompson 116
6. Ravel Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 115
7. Temporary Saint David Jacobson Eddie Castro 115
8. Dry Martiini Billy Turner Channing Hill 116

Ravel and Dry Martini will race with blinkers.
Temporary Saint was supplemented to this race.