06/14/2004 12:00AM

Aggressive race riding part of game

Four Footed Fotos
Colonial Colony (outside), a 62-1 longshot, catches up with Southern Image just before the wire in Saturday's Grade1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Southern Image's trainer and jockey said that Midway Road's rider, Robby Albarado, hurt their chances.

NEW YORK - It can't be easy to put up a good front moments after your horse is nosed out as the 3-2 favorite in a Grade 1, $750,000 race, as was the case with Southern Image in Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. And judging from the postrace quotes, Southern Image's jockey and trainer, Victor Espinoza and Mike Machowsky, had a hard time biting their tongues after their colt was denied his sixth straight victory and fourth Grade 1 score from his last five starts by the 62-1 outsider Colonial Colony. Both seemed to be especially perturbed by the way Robby Albarado rode Midway Road against their horse.

"We had Albarado riding two horses in the same race," complained Espinoza in the quotes compiled by Churchill Downs.

"I think if anything cost us the race it was maybe Albarado," offered Machowsky. "He rode us instead of his horse the whole way. Down the backside he was hemming us in and keeping us in there, and was worried about us instead of letting his horse run on like he likes to run on."

The way I saw it, Espinoza had the opportunity on the first turn to establish position with Southern Image away from the rail and off the right flank of pacesetter Peace Rules. Instead, he elected to tuck in behind Peace Rules. That decision then presented two choices to Albarado, who was outside Southern Image with Midway Road in a close-up third. Albarado could have gone up and engaged in a speed duel with Peace Rules, or he could have sat back just off the pace, with the added bonus of keeping the horse the entire field had to beat, Southern Image, boxed in on the rail.

The choice was a no-brainer. Albarado rode the race he was supposed to. Even Machowsky recognized that Albarado was race riding. "If I was a jock," Machowsky said, "I'd do the same thing."

And truth be told, Albarado's savvy race riding had nothing to do with Southern Image's loss. The Foster field fanned out turning for home, and Southern Image got a seam big enough to drive two Hummers through. He hit the front in upper stretch, and even with the extra reserves he had in his tank because of being bottled up in the run down the backstretch, Southern Image still couldn't outfinish Colonial Colony, who hadn't won a race in more than 16 months and had never won a stakes.

The criticism of Albarado by Espinoza and Machowsky is totally misplaced, as is the apparent anger toward jockey Jerry Bailey, and to a smaller extent jockey Alex Solis, for the way they rode in the June 5 Belmont Stakes. It seems a large segment of the racing public feels that Bailey rode Eddington in a way meant only to hurt the chances of Smarty Jones, ostensibly because Bailey was peeved that he was unsuccessful at swiping the mount on Smarty Jones from Stewart Elliott following the Arkansas Derby.

That is just crazy. The knock on Eddington going into the Belmont was his lack of focus. With a best-of-36 workout and a second-best-of-71 workout between the Preakness and the Belmont, it was obvious that the way Eddington's lack of focus would be addressed would be to put him in the game early. But Eddington was sluggish early, and the only way for him to be a pace factor was for him to be hustled up.

But even if you think that Bailey, and Solis on Rock Hard Ten, decided either individually or collectively to make life miserable for Smarty Jones by sending their mounts, you are missing one important point: Bailey and Solis didn't force Elliott to take the bait in one of the oldest race-riding traps. Elliott could have taken Smarty Jones back. And if you don't think Elliott could have done that, then why did Elliott have a good hold of Smarty Jones around the first turn, and why was he nudging Smarty Jones to maintain the lead when challenged by Eddington and Rock Hard Ten through those exceedingly fast third and fourth quarter-miles? Elliott took the bait, and fell into the trap, and that isn't Bailey's or Solis's fault.

Medaglia d'Oro latest Dubai casualty

Overshadowed by the Triple Crown was the retirement of one of the best horses in the country, Medaglia d'Oro. Contrary to what some people connected to the horse have said, Medaglia d'Oro still had more to prove. Despite earning more than $5.7 million, Medaglia d'Oro never won a championship. He seemed to be a leading candidate for one this year at 5, but instead goes home having raced just twice in 2004 - a win in the Donn and a sharp second in the Dubai World Cup - which could not have been the campaign his connections originally envisioned.

That, combined with the timing of the announcement - top stallion prospects are almost never retired at this time of year unless injury is involved - leads to the strong suspicion that the long trip to Dubai for the World Cup claimed yet another victim. This is no surprise. The Dubai World Cup has a long list of American horses who were never the same after racing there. Now, Medaglia d'Oro will never be a champion.