02/05/2004 12:00AM

Medaglia d'Oro top gun in Donn

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Medaglia d'Oro, unraced since his Breeders' Cup defeat, will be favored in the Donn.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It was an upset on the tote board when trainer Bobby Frankel spoiled Funny Cide's Triple Crown party with Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes and beat him again later that summer with Peace Rules in the Haskell. On Saturday, the shoe will be on the other foot when Funny Cide plays the underdog against the Frankel-trained Medaglia d'Oro in Gulfstream Park's $500,000 .

The Grade 1 Donn is the highlight of an outstanding 12-race program that includes the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap and Grade 3 Davona Dale Stakes. The Donn will be the fourth leg of the Magna 5 pick five wager.

The Donn, at 1 1/8 miles, is the richest race for older horses at Gulfstream Park with a roster of past champions that includes Forego, Foolish Pleasure, Cigar (twice), and Skip Away.

Despite the presence of Medaglia d'Oro and Funny Cide, this year's running is anything but a two-horse race - especially with giant killer Allen Jerkens sending out a potent one-two punch of Puzzlement and Bowman's Band. Seattle Fitz, The Judge Sez Who, Country Be Gold, and Predawn Raid round out the starting lineup.

Medaglia d'Oro, a 5-year-old by El Prado, will be a deserving favorite. He has been at the top of the handicap division for the last two seasons and was the runner-up and favorite in each of the last two Breeders' Cup Classics. He has not finished worse than second in nine starts dating to the 2002 Belmont and won two Grade 1 stakes during that span.

Overall, Medaglia d'Oro has won 7 of 15 starts and $4.2 million for owner Edmund Gann.

The Donn will be Medaglia d'Oro's first start since he was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Pleasantly Perfect in the Breeders' Cup. He has trained steadily and at times spectacularly for his return and always seems to run well fresh. He came off a similar layoff last winter to register an easy seven-length victory in Santa Anita's Grade 2 Strub.

"I'm excited to be meeting Funny Cide again, and this time he'll be the spoiler if he beats me," said Frankel. "I think I've got the favorite in this race."

Medaglia d'Oro will carry high weight of 123 pounds, three more than Funny Cide, and will be ridden by Jerry Bailey.

Funny Cide had not won a race since the Preakness until handily disposing of allowance company to launch his 2004 campaign going seven furlongs here on Jan. 10. Trainer Barclay Tagg has pointed Funny Cide to the Donn since his arrival in south Florida in November, and Funny Cide has continued to train extremely well since his easy victory earlier in the meet.

"He's been doing everything right, but this is a major step for him, especially going up against a horse like Medaglia d'Oro," said Tagg who has stated on several occasions that he will scratch Funny Cide if the weather is too hot on Saturday.

Funny Cide, a 4-year-old New York-bred gelding by Distorted Humor, has won 6 of 12 starts and $2.1 million for his owner, Sackatoga Stable.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for scattered showers with a temperature in the mid-70's.

Puzzlement and Bowman's Band, who will run uncoupled in the wagering, would both benefit from a lively pace. Puzzlement rallied from far back to beat Bowman's Band a neck in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap on opening day. He finished fourth, 2 1/2 lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro, when the pair last met in the 2003 Whitney.

"Naturally, I'd like to see some of the others kill themselves up front, but if my horses run their races and their jockeys ride good, they should both do well even if the pace isn't too fast," said Jerkens.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin shipped Seattle Fitz down from New York following his narrow victory over Evening Attire in the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap on Jan. 17 specifically to run in the Donn.