05/31/2002 11:00PM

Medaglia d'Oro taking new approach

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ELMONT, N.Y. - He smiled. Yes, he did. A big, bright smile. Bobby Frankel smiled on Saturday morning at Belmont Park, right after Richard Migliore worked Medaglia d'Oro, then told Frankel, "He's right on. He's going to be tough."

"I like hearing that from you," Frankel replied.

Frankel has been searching for answers for the poor performance turned in by Medaglia d'Oro in the Preakness Stakes. He went off as the second choice in that race, based on a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, in which he encountered severe traffic trouble. But Medaglia d'Oro finished eighth in the Preakness, and Frankel at first thought he would switch the colt to the turf for the future.

But Frankel is now willing to give Medaglia d'Oro one last try against the nation's best 3-year-olds. He will join War Emblem and Proud Citizen as the only horses to run in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown when he competes in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, a race in which War Emblem will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.

Medaglia d'Oro will have a different jockey for all three races. Laffit Pincay Jr. rode him in the Derby, and Jerry Bailey in the Preakness. Frankel said either Pat Valenzuela or Kent Desormeaux would ride Medaglia d'Oro in the Belmont. Desormeaux has mounts in other races at Belmont Park on Saturday, so he seems like the favorite for the job, though Frankel said he would probably wait until entry time to name a rider.

"There's a few things I'm trying to analyze about that race," Frankel said of the Preakness. "I think he was too close to a quicker pace than he was used to. That's no fault of Bailey. I told him to ride him away from the gate. But he was beat too far to make a legitimate excuse. Maybe he needs to be in more of a comfort mode. I also blew him out three furlongs two days before the Preakness. This time, he's working seven days out. I'm training him like I would a grass horse for a mile-and-a-half race."

Saturday's drill was designed to get Medaglia d'Oro to start easier and finish stronger. Migliore rode to instructions, letting Medaglia d'Oro go off steadily, and having him finish quickly. Medaglia d'Oro breezed five furlongs on a fast main track in 1:00.45, the third best of 11 at the distance. He began his work at the half-mile pole, and went out a furlong past the wire. He completed the last furlong in 11.80 seconds.

"He galloped out nice. I've got no excuses now," Frankel said. "Maybe it's a blessing he didn't run hard in the Preakness. He can come back and fire."

In other Belmont developments Saturday:

* Perfect Drift had his final pre-Belmont work, turning in his typical professional move at the Trackside training facility in Louisville, Ky. With regular exercise rider Joe Deegan aboard, Perfect Drift breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 over a fast track.

"He's more consistent than ever," said trainer Murray Johnson. "However you plan out a work, that's how he goes out and does it."

Perfect Drift ran splits of 12.80 seconds, 24.80, 37.20, and 48.80 before "I bent over him and let him run a little," said Deegan. "He's always quick around there. He does 12's like they're nothing." The gelding galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.40.

Perfect Drift skipped the Preakness after finishing third in the Derby. "This is going to be three races in 11 weeks, so we haven't chewed him up," said Johnson. "I'm delighted we did it this way. If we'd run in the Preakness, I don't think we'd be looking as good as we are right now."

Perfect Drift will be flown Wednesday to New York, along with War Emblem, Proud Citizen, and the rest of the Louisville contingent on a Tex Sutton charter. The flight will be the first for Perfect Drift.

"I looked into it, and I'm satisfied it'll be better for us," said Johnson, who initially said he probably would have Perfect Drift take a 16-hour van ride to New York. "I was worried about sitting on a tarmac for four hours, but I've been assured it will all be done very quickly."

Eddie Delahoussaye again has the mount on Perfect Drift.

* War Emblem, back to the track at Churchill Downs for the second time since working Wednesday, had another regular 1 1/2-mile gallop under exercise rider Mick Jenner. War Emblem is scheduled to work Tuesday, then be flown to New York the next morning.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee