01/15/2009 1:00AM

High hopes for Medaglia d'Onore


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Medaglia d'Onore takes the first step on what his connections hope will be the road to the classics Saturday when he makes his 3-year-old debut while topping a field of seven in the $65,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

The other stakes on the card is the $65,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both the Pasco and the Gasparilla will be run at seven furlongs.

Daniel Centeno will ride Medaglia d'Onore in the Pasco. The Medaglia d'Oro colt makes his first start since finishing seventh to Vineyard Haven in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in September at Saratoga.

Medaglia d'Onore won his third career start at Churchill Downs with a strong late rally when treated with the bleeder medication Lasix for the first time. He then came back to finish a close fifth in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at Churchill.

Shipped to Saratoga, the colt was a troubled sixth in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, then held a striking position to the stretch of the seven-furlong Hopeful before fading to seventh behind Vineyard Haven, one of the top 2-year-olds last season.

"He has matured and filled out nicely of late, and we're hopeful he'll prove he deserves a spot with the top 3-year-olds in the country," said part-owner Donnie Kelly, who oversees the colt for trainer Jamie Sanders.

General Quarters, who closed with a rush in the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes, gets more distance Saturday and rates a long look in the Pasco under James Lopez. Another top contender is undefeated Musket Man, who will be going for his third straight win while making his 3-year-old debut.

Hooh Why looks strong in Gasparilla

Late-running Hooh Why, who had traffic problems and finished second in the six-furlong Sandpiper Stakes in her local debut, will benefit from the added distance of the Gasparilla. Ronnie Allen Jr. returns at 122 pounds in the field of nine.

Hooh Why was well traveled as a 2-year-old, winning at first asking at Arlington Park. She then finished fourth and second against allowance rivals at Presque Isle before moving to Woodbine.

In her first stakes attempt, in the seven-furlong Glorious Song, Hooh Why rallied from off the pace to be gaining ground when third to Selva. In her first start around two turns, Hooh Way, trained by Kathy Guciardo, led through much of the Display against male rivals before losing by a head to Patena, who returned to finish second in last weekend's Lecomte stakes at Fair Grounds.

Caughtinthemoment, who used high speed to take her last against allowance company at Calder, and Glacker Queen, who showed some talent last season in New York and Kentucky, top the challengers to Hooh Why.