02/03/2005 12:00AM

Medallist has got things figured out

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NEW YORK - The Grade 1, $500,000 Donn Handicap is the highest-graded and richest event in the nation Saturday, and it heads a card at Gulfstream that includes five other graded stakes worth an additional $650,000.

Three-year-olds have two stakes opportunities at Gulfstream in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs and the Grade 3 Holy Bull at 1 1/8 miles. Each is worth $150,000. There are also two stakes for 3-year-old fillies: the Grade 2, $150,000 Davona Dale at 1 1/8 miles, and the $100,000 Old Hat at 6 1/2 furlongs. The remaining stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday is the Grade 3, $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap for older sprinters.

Saturday is also a big day at Santa Anita, and a big night at Delta Downs. The main event at Santa Anita is the Grade 2, $300,000 Strub Stakes, with the $100,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds acting as a supporting feature. It's Louisiana Premier Night at Delta Downs, with six stakes races for Louisiana-breds worth a total of $800,000, topped by the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship.

Deputy Minister Handicap

The big upset wasn't that Medallist crushed his field last time out in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap, or that he ran fast enough to earn a gaudy Beyer Speed Figure of 113. The surprise was that Medallist ran straight and true. Because he did, and because he can be a top-notch performer when he does, I like him to win right back.

Medallist ran some huge races well before the Noe. Last May, he romped in the Withers despite disputing a very fast early pace and got a Beyer of 110. He followed with an amazing victory in the Dwyer, in which he set blazing fractions that would cook almost any other horse. But Medallist still won comfortably, and finished strongly enough to earn a Beyer of 112.

The problem with Medallist was that he had shown a troubling tendency to drift out sharply. He did just that in the stretch of the Withers and still won, but it cost him when he blew the turn into the stretch in the King's Bishop. It was only a matter of time, however, before Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens found the cause of what has kept Medallist from being a force, and the Noe is evidence that he was successful.

Of course, Medallist will have to deal with Kela, who ran so well when second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and who can't really be knocked. But it is the presence of Kela that will make the price on Medallist all the more attractive.

Hutcheson Stakes

Proud Accolade won the Grade 1 Champagne last year, and is the best horse in this race going in. At the same time, I didn't care for his sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and especially his distant fifth in the Hollywood Futurity. I also don't like his rail draw, which is never a good place to start from in races out of a chute like this. So I'm going against him at low odds.

I like Devil at Sea despite his big jump in class. Devil at Sea won by double digits in his first start, and ran even better in defeat most recently. He forced a very fast early pace - the second quarter was especially quick - and was still only caught late by the highly regarded Dearest Mon, a starter later in the Gulfstream card in the Holy Bull. The pace this time does not figure to be anywhere near as fast, and that could make Devil at Sea tough to catch.

Strub Stakes

Love of Money was my pick in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last October, his last appearance, and he rewarded me with a next-to-last-place finish. Ever stubborn, I'm taking him again.

Truth is, Love of Money is infinitely more capable than he showed in the Gold Cup, as evidenced by huge wins in his prior two starts. Moreover, he is particularly attractive here because he is the only genuine front-runner in the field.

Certainly, Rock Hard Ten is capable of winning on his best effort. But, he figures to be drastically overbet off his effort in the recent Malibu. He won that race, but it seemed to me that he won mainly because that race fell completely apart late.

Saturday

Gulfstream Park: Hutcheson Stakes
3-year-olds, 7 1/2 furlongs
Approximate post: Eastern-2:48 p.m., Central-1:48 p.m., Mountain-12:48 p.m., Pacific-11:48 a.m.
Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Partly cloudy, 72 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Proud Accolade73891001-1
2Carson's Bridge6393--6-1
3Vicarage9058545-1
4Park Avenue Ball73807610-1
5Devil at Sea8383--8-1
6Defer7872755-2

Most recent Beyers listed first; odds by Art Gropper

Gulfstream Park: Deputy Minister Handicap
3 and up, 6 1/2 furlongs
Approximate post: Eastern-4:23 p.m., Central-3:23 p.m., Mountain-2:23 p.m., Pacific-4:23 p.m.
Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Partly cloudy, 72 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Paradise Dancer1031048820-1
2Kela931091167-5
3Mister Fotis101997115-1
4Forest Danger104110899-5
5Medallist11387662-1
6Voodoo787210312-1
7Nightmare Affair100948150-1

Odds by Art Gropper

Santa Anita: Strub Stakes
4-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles
Approximate post: Eastern-7:12 p.m., Central-6:12 p.m., Mountain-5:12 p.m., Pacific-4:12 p.m.
Arcadia, Ca., forecast: Sunny, 66 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Hendrix94938420-1
2Skipaslew98889512-1
3Good Reward10498895-1
4Castledale977010312-1
5Love of Money901121053-1
6My Creed94908830-1
7Rock Hard Ten102831097-5
8Imperialism981011016-1
10With Distinction909010830-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly