08/21/2002 11:00PM

Hard to oppose Medaglia d'Oro in Travers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Million-dollar races are not supposed to be easy. That may explain trainer Bobby Frankel searching for reasons why his 3-year-old Medaglia d'Oro will have a difficult time winning Saturday's Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.

Medaglia d'Oro, a 13 3/4-length winner of the Jim Dandy 20 days ago, is one of just two graded stakes winners in the Travers field. He was installed as a 3-5 favorite by Daily Racing Form handicapper Mike Sherack, and a 2-5 choice by New York Racing Association linemaker Don LaPlace. In the last 50 years, there have been 21 odds-on favorites in the Travers, 17 of whom have won.

Frankel politely dismisses the competition, which does not include Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, but does include Louisiana Derby winner Repent, who has not raced in 140 days.

"I'm not really worried about anybody," said Frankel, who trains Medaglia d'Oro for Edmund Gann. "If he shows up and he runs his race I think we're in real good shape in the Travers."

Frankel no longer fears that Medaglia d'Oro will bounce, because according to the numbers he relies on, Medaglia d'Oro did not run his best race in the Jim Dandy. The Beyer Speed Figure of 120 that Medaglia d'Oro earned winning the Jim Dandy is a lifetime best.

During the Triple Crown series, in which three races are contested in five weeks, Medaglia d'Oro ran well in the Kentucky Derby (fourth), lousy in the Preakness (eighth), and very well in the Belmont Stakes (second).

If Frankel has a concern heading into the Travers, it's the possibility of a wet track or a drying out track such as the one the Preakness was run over. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 50 percent chance of showers on Saturday.

"I'm hoping it'll be a fast track," Frankel said. "It's the only thing that bothers me."

Management is also hoping Mother Nature cooperates. Travers Day is the showcase of the 36-day meet. An 11-race card - including four graded stakes - begins at

12:30 p.m. A pick four with a guaranteed pool of $1 million will be offered on those stakes. ESPN will televise the Travers and King's Bishop in a 90-minute broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Medaglia d'Oro will try to become just the fifth 3-year-old to pull off the Jim Dandy-Travers double. Twenty-four previous Jim Dandy winners have run in the Travers.

Medaglia d'Oro holds a tactical edge over his eight rivals. He is the likely pacesetter under Jerry Bailey, though he could stalk should Shah Jehan, Gold Dollar, or Saint Marden attempt to make the lead.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a two-time Travers winner, said Shah Jehan, who breaks from the rail, is "capable of getting the lead if he wants it." But Lukas expects him to lay third or fourth early. Gold Dollar tried to run with Medaglia d'Oro in the Jim Dandy, but could not and finished third, placed second when Quest was disqualified. However, Lukas said Gold Dollar needed the race.

The horses given the best chance to knock off Medaglia d'Oro are Repent and Like a Hero.

Repent, a one-time Kentucky Derby future-book favorite, is making his first start since finishing second in the Illinois Derby on April 6 and having ankle surgery. Despite Repent's layoff, trainer Ken McPeek could not be any more confident in his late-running colt's chances.

"He did run awful well off the layoff in the Risen Star," said McPeek, referring to Repent's winning 3-year-old debut at Fair Grounds off an 86-day layoff. "I really, really wanted to run the horse a mile and a quarter more than anything. We could wait another week and wait for the Pennsylvania Derby, but I think he's every bit as good as any 3-year-old in the nation."

Like a Hero was slammed at the start of the Belmont Stakes, and was never asked to run thereafter by Pat Day, finishing seventh, 17 3/4 lengths behind Sarava. Since then, he has finished second behind Came Home in the Swaps, and third behind War Emblem and Magic Weisner in the Haskell.

Trainer Beau Greely said the Travers has been Like a Hero's goal since the spring, and Greely feels Like a Hero is "eating the track up when he gallops and breezes. I couldn't be asking more of the horse at all."

Laffit Pincay Jr. sees fit to give up a day at Del Mar to ride Like a Hero.

Nick Zito will send out Quest and Nothing Flat, who were soundly beaten in the Jim Dandy. Quest finished second, but was disqualified for interference and placed last. Nothing Flat bled through Lasix while finishing seventh, but Zito believes he may bounce back given the recent cool weather.

It was only two years ago that Zito's Albert the Great came within an inch of winning the Travers after running poorly in the Jim Dandy.

Puzzlement and Saint Marden complete the field.

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