08/21/2002 11:00PM

Medaglia, yes - War Emblem, no


NEW YORK - The race that everyone had hoped for won't be happening this weekend. Three weeks ago, after the nation's top 3-year-old, War Emblem, cruised in the Haskell, and one of his closest rivals, Medaglia d'Oro, dominated the Jim Dandy, racing fans hoped the pair would cross paths this weekend. Instead, they are entered in $1 million races at opposite ends of the country, with Medaglia d'Oro in Saturday's Travers at Saratoga and War Emblem in Del Mar's Pacific Classic on Sunday. How will they do? And how will

3-year-old sprinters do in yet another Grade 1 race this weekend, the $200,000 King's Bishop on the Travers undercard? Let's see:


I bet Medaglia d'Oro at 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby, and again when he drifted to 16-1 in the Belmont Stakes, when he was a narrowly beaten second. So, if there were a way I could avoid taking 2-5 on him Saturday, I would. But, there isn't. Medaglia d'Oro should win the Travers.

When Medaglia d'Oro won the Jim Dandy by nearly 14 lengths, he raced with the grain of an intensely inside speed-favoring track. So what? He was going to win big anyway. And, while Medaglia d'Oro will have company up front early Saturday in the form of Shah Jehan and perhaps Saint Marden, it shouldn't make a difference. Medaglia d'Oro may be at his best on the early lead as he was in the Jim Dandy, but he is also effective rating just off it, as he showed in the Belmont.

And the other pace players won't be able to keep up with Medaglia d'Oro when he throws a quick fourth quarter at them around the far turn.

It is possible that by the top of the stretch, Medaglia d'Oro may turn the Travers into a scramble for second. If that happens, I like Like a Hero, Puzzlement, and Nothing Flat underneath in exotic wagers. Like a Hero raced creditably against Came Home and War Emblem in his last two starts. Puzzlement is primed for a step forward after winning his Travers prep over the track. Nothing Flat, another deep closer, was too close early before having serious traffic trouble in the stretch of the Jim Dandy.

King's Bishop

This is a good betting race with a well-matched field of nine and a Bobby Frankel-Jerry Bailey horse - Labamta Babe - who will take some money but who is vulnerable off a January layoff and at the seven-furlong distance. I like Smooth Jazz, a solid third last out behind two stakes-class older horses, Voodoo and Aldebaran. Smooth Jazz is back in with 3-year-olds here, a big class drop, and should sit a nice trip just off a contested pace.

Thunder Days is intriguing. He was flying at the finish to be a close third in his return from a nine-month absence on Jim Dandy Day while racing against the bias and figures to be tougher second time back.

Gygistar is logical off his win at the distance in the Riva Ridge two starts back. He can sit a good stalking trip from his outside post. Folkestone Park can also be used in exotics. His win at the distance early in the meet resulted in a 105 Beyer, which matches the top in the field.

Pacific Classic

I don't blame War Emblem for declining to make yet another cross-country journey for the Travers. But by staying home, he finds himself in deep water if he runs in Sunday's Pacific Classic. I say "if" because, once his people look at the other speed in this race, it wouldn't surprise me if they scratch and look for an easier spot like the Super Derby.

If War Emblem runs, you are supposed to take a swing against him. It's hard envisioning him surviving a speed duel with the red-hot Sky Jack, and vice versa. Came Home, another name horse in this race, is supposed to be played against because of major questions about his ability to handle the 1 1/4 miles.

Considering this, all signs point to Milwaukee Brew. He was left with too much ground to close when third in the Hollywood Gold Cup most recently, and he also may have been flat after previously just getting up in the Californian off a layoff. Milwaukee Brew was presented with a similar hot-pace scenario in the Santa Anita Handicap last March, and all he did then was crush his field by four, widening lengths.