05/23/2002 11:00PM

Frankel may run Medaglia d'Oro

War Emblem enjoyed a perfect morning at Churchill Downs Friday as he prepares for the Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Immediately after the Preakness, in which Medaglia d'Oro finished a well-beaten eighth as the 3-1 second choice, trainer Bobby Frankel said a start in the Belmont Stakes was not in the offing.

"I will give him a month or so off and then try the turf," Frankel was quoted as saying.

But, when Frankel arrived in New York Sunday morning, he had a new take on things. And, while he hasn't officially declared Medaglia d'Oro a starter for the June 8 Belmont Stakes, he has become more open-minded about the idea of running.

"When I got here Sunday morning they said he acted like he never ran," said Frankel. "He ate up well. We'll see how he does, how he's eating. I'll just train him and see how he's acting."

Frankel said he would wait to make a decision until Medaglia d'Oro breezes next weekend at Belmont. Frankel, who finished second in the 2000 Belmont with 8-5 favorite Aptitude, said the decision would depend solely on how he thinks the horse is doing, and not the competition.

"I'm not going to commit one way or the other," Frankel said Friday. "I don't have a rider. I'm sure I'll get a good rider if I need one."

Jerry Bailey, who rode Medaglia d'Oro in the Preakness, has taken the mount on Essence of Dubai for the Belmont Stakes, Ron Anderson, Bailey's agent, confirmed on Friday. Essence of Dubai finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.

Laffit Pincay Jr., the three-time Belmont Stakes winner who rode Medaglia d'Oro in the Kentucky Derby, will likely ride Like a Hero in the Belmont if he runs. John Velazquez, who is uncommitted for the Belmont, would be the likely rider should Frankel decide to run.

As for the Preakness, Frankel thinks Medaglia d'Oro might not have cared for the Pimlico surface. "Horses that are in the bridle and don't run when you turn them loose normally don't like the track,'' Frankel said. "If he got beat two or three lengths I'd say he just wasn't good enough. He still might not be good enough to beat [War Emblem]. That horse is so good right now."

Frankel said if he chooses to skip the Belmont, he would point Medaglia d'Oro to the Mid-America Triple, a series of races for 3-year-old turf horses at Arlington Park that begins with the Arlington Classic on June 29.

War Emblem's perfect morning

Triple Crown hopeful War Emblem, in his second day of training after his Preakness victory, had a perfect morning at Churchill Downs, galloping an easy 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Mick Jenner.

"He was a good boy," said Jenner. "Real good. Yesterday, he liked to kill me and [groom] Roberto [Luna], he was so on the muscle. But today he was really relaxed."

Trainer Bob Baffert was scheduled to return to Kentucky this weekend after having made a short trip home to California. Baffert has tentatively scheduled workouts for War Emblem on the next two Tuesdays, with the colt scheduled to be flown to New York early on the morning of June 5.

Like a Hero probable for Belmont

Like a Hero, the winner of the Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park on Thursday, was confirmed on Friday as a probable for the Belmont Stakes on June 8 by trainer Beau Greely. The Alydar Stakes was considered a must-win situation for Like a Hero to have any chance of starting in the Belmont Stakes. "If we have an opportunity to win a classic, we should try," Greely said. "He was bucking and kicking this morning, and that's what you want to see."

Like a Hero won his third consecutive race and made his stakes debut in the Alydar, which was run over 1 1/8 miles.

Ridden by Pincay, Like a Hero stalked the pace to the quarter-pole and drew off to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Pincay will be offered the mount, Greely said.

Like a Hero is undefeated at a mile or farther.

Greely was also considering the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on June 23 at Hollywood Park before Thursday's win. "With the Affirmed you're backing up and he gets better with distance," Greely said. "He's by Pleasant Colony. He should want to run all day."

* Responding to queries about whether Mike Smith will retain the mount on Proud Citizen, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said on Friday from Churchill: "Absolutely. He's our Belmont jock." Agents for top riders such as Jerry Bailey and Pat Day have inquired about riding Proud Citizen, who was second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marty McGee