03/21/2002 1:00AM

A hot tip from Bertrand Russell


JAMAICA, N.Y. - The philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

Amen to that, brother. When it comes to the 3-year-old class of 2002 the more you see, the more confused you become.

Take Medaglia d'Oro, the upset winner of last Sunday's San Felipe. Is there a single racewatcher in the entire world who didn't think that horse was done when he dropped back to third on the far turn? With three-eighths of a mile to go, the seasoned and talented 2-5 favorite Siphonic had assumed command, and he looked to be traveling quite comfortably under Jerry Bailey.

Into the stretch, however, Medaglia d'Oro, whose total racing experience consisted of exactly two six-furlong maiden races, came again on the inside and drew off through the final furlong as if he had been doing this sort of thing all his life. Siphonic abruptly shortened stride and faded to third behind runner-up U S S Tinosa, a colt who won a pair of Ohio-bred stakes last fall with Beyer Speed Figures in the 60's.

The "book" says lightly seasoned colts such as Medaglia d'Oro aren't supposed to win the Kentucky Derby. But don't tell that to miracle worker Bobby Frankel, whose Aptitude ran second in the 2000 Derby (and Belmont Stakes) while still eligible for entry-level allowance conditions.

And what is one to make of Harlan's Holiday in the wake of last Saturday's victory in the Florida Derby?

It depended on which day you read the Racing Form. "Harlan has the right move," was the headline on Mike Watchmaker's Wednesday column. "Off the Holiday bandwagon," led Andy Beyer's column a day later.

Same horse. Same race. Totally divergent opinions, each with its merits.

The Florida Derby's only definitive aspect concerned pace matchups and their significant influence on results. Harlan's Holiday couldn't quite overtake Booklet when Booklet controlled the early fractions in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. But when Booklet was confronted with severe pace pressure in the Florida Derby, Harlan's Holiday ran by him on the far turn like he was standing still.

It brings to mind last year's Florida Derby, won by Monarchos with a similar turn move (though with a faster Beyer). So visually impressive in the Florida Derby, Monarchos lost followers after his second-place finish in the Wood Memorial, in which he encountered a loose pacesetter in a small field and could only manage a negligible gain through the stretch.

The race - a prep, remember - served its purpose. Presented with screaming fractions in Louisville, Monarchos's big late kick was rekindled, and he ran the second-fastest Derby on record.

But perhaps last weekend's most interesting 3-year-old development concerned Aqueduct's Gotham, a one-turn mile that launched the sophomore campaigns of Mayakovsky and Saarland.

Mayakovsky had been idle since running second in last summer's Hopeful, after which he underwent surgery on his left-hind pastern. Did he drift out suddenly through the Gotham's last sixteenth because of inexperience (it was only his third lifetime start), or was it a sign that a flat mile on an uncontested lead is the limit of his capabilities?

Even more of an enigma at this point is Saarland, winner of last fall's Remsen, a 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 that has laid the foundation for many a top-class colt through the years.

The first question is, just how strong a field convened for the 2001 Remsen? The race went in 1:51.28 and received a mere 87 Beyer, while its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle, went in 1:50.57 earlier that day. Moreover, Saarland had been well beaten in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was still eligible for an entry-level allowance, and the second- and third-place finishers, Nokoma and Silent Fred, were stepping up directly off their maiden victories.

The Remsen wasn't fast, the field wasn't accomplished, and it sure doesn't look any better after Nokoma, who was beaten a scant neck there, lost by a country mile in both of his stakes attempts at Gulfstream.

The second thing is, if and when Saarland runs in the Derby, he will do so off only two prep races, and that plan failed miserably a year ago with Point Given.

Then again, Saarland is built differently. He's not a massive physical specimen like Point Given was, so maybe two races will be sufficient. He certainly wins the pedigree contest, doesn't he?

At this point, if anybody tries tells you they know something for sure about the long-term development of Medaglia d'Oro, Harlan's Holiday, Saarland, and their friends, do yourself a favor and refer them to the quotation at the top of this column.