Late to arrive, Medaglia d'Oro gets the nod as early favorite

4th in Derby, horse boasts speed, new rider in Bailey

127th Preakness

May 17, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Bobby Frankel hasn't seen his horse, Medaglia d'Oro, for a week and a half. Frankel is in California, and Medaglia d'Oro is in New York.

Yet Medaglia d'Oro is running tomorrow in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. What's more, he's the morning-line favorite.

Although Preakness horses began arriving at Pimlico 10 days ago, Medaglia d'Oro won't step foot on Pimlico soil until 4 a.m. tomorrow, Frankel says. The colt is to leave Belmont Park at midnight for the four-hour drive down Interstate 95.

"I train all these European horses," Frankel said yesterday during a media teleconference call. "They do it every day there. It's no big deal."

Two days after finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby, Medaglia d'Oro traveled by van from Churchill Downs to Belmont. Frankel traveled back to his base in California. He hasn't seen the horse since, he said, but has overseen his training by long-distance conversations with his assistants.

Medaglia d'Oro breezed three furlongs in 35 seconds yesterday at Belmont. That was his only breeze - a workout at near-race speed - since the Derby. He jogged and galloped regularly.

"I really didn't think he needed a breeze," Frankel said. "He's a little on the lazy side. Maybe that will perk him up a little bit."

At first glance, Medaglia d'Oro may be a surprise selection as program favorite at 5-2. After all, he finished the Derby behind two of the horses he'll meet again in the Preakness: War Emblem, who won the race, and Proud Citizen, who was second.

But Medaglia d'Oro, a horse with sizzling speed, broke awkwardly and was bumped at the break. Although expected to be on the lead, he found himself 10th and in a pack chugging to the first turn. Despite that unfortunate start, subsequent traffic jams and another bump turning for home, he managed to finish fourth. He was the only one of the 18 runners in the race who significantly improved his position.

And then, the morning after the Derby, Frankel predicted that he would win the Preakness with Medaglia d'Oro.

"I've said that before other races and gotten beat," Frankel said yesterday. "But I think he's going to run a good race. He had enough experience in the Derby for four or five races. He had enough trouble and still made up ground at the end."

Much was made before the Derby of Medaglia d'Oro's inexperience. He had raced only four times, upsetting leading Derby contender Siphonic in the San Felipe Stakes and then finishing a hard-fought second to Buddha in the Wood Memorial Stakes.

Laffit Pinacy Jr. rode the El Prado colt in those races and the Derby. But Frankel hired money rider Jerry Bailey for the Preakness.

The Frankel-Bailey connection with the highly regarded horse spelled favorite for Frank Carulli, the Pimlico oddsmaker making his first Preakness line. Carulli set War Emblem, the Derby winner, at 3-1.

Although Frankel has won two Eclipse Awards and been inducted into racing's Hall of Fame, he has not won a Triple Crown race. He hasn't tried often (four times in the Derby and once each in the Preakness and Belmont), because his stable in the past has lacked quality 3-year-olds.

Despite winning Grade I stakes from coast to coast with dazzling frequency, Frankel hadn't won a Breeders' Cup race until October, when Squirtle Squirt broke his 0-for-37 streak. Frankel started six horses that day, but Squirtle Squirt was his only winner. He was so disappointed with just that one win that he declined to speak with reporters after the victory.

The past couple of days at Pimlico have been filled with talk about the pace of the Preakness. Will War Emblem be allowed to gallop into an uncontested lead as he did in the Derby? Will Booklet, Menacing Dennis, Table Limit or Medaglia d'Oro take him on early?

"They all can't take back, and the turn comes up quicker than it does in the Derby," Frankel said. "If nobody wants to go with [War Emblem], I'm sure Jerry will go up and hook him. He's shown he's got the guts to go up there head-to-head with him."

But regardless of what trainers or jockeys say they're going to do, Frankel said, the unexpected is often the norm.

"It's still a horse race," he said. "You've still got to go out there and run."

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