07/16/2004 12:00AM

Medallist makes big impact

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PHILADELPHIA - It is the rare race that is instructive in three of the most important points of the game. The Dwyer was one of those races.

It was a classic demonstration of the power that is the Reputation Induced Phenomenon, the awesome value of early speed, and the reality of Beyer Speed Figures.

There were six horses in the race, but, on paper, it was essentially a match race between Blue Grass winner The Cliff's Edge and Withers winner Medallist.

The Cliff's Edge was coupled with Sir Shackleton, but the entry was 3-5 because of Cliff. Medallist was 3-1.

Neither colt had raced since Derby Day. While Medallist was running at Aqueduct, The Cliff's Edge was losing shoes in the Derby.

Any reasonable reading of the race would have revealed one major difference between the two protagonists. Medallist was going to be first early. Cliff was going to be last. This was not a complicated conclusion. It looked like a match race.

Each horse had run one great Beyer race, but, overall, Cliff was clearly more accomplished. He had raced in eight consecutive stakes. Medallist's first stakes was the Withers.

So what to do? If you really believe match races are won in front, there was only one choice, especially when you have a match in which the closer has to pass four horses just to get into the match.

Cliff was bet so strongly because of his reputation, even though Medallist was coming off the best Beyer in his most recent race. It wasn't just the 110 Beyer that Medallist got in the Withers that made him so intriguing. In that race, previously unbeaten Forest Danger, a $900,000 2-year-old purchase coming off a 110 in the Bay Shore, was 2-5. And Medallist ran him right off his feet.

As someone who has loved early speed since my early days as a player at Pimlico and Timonium, and absolutely can't stand jockeys trying to rate their horses and "save something for the finish," I would tell all jockeys to watch the tape of Jorge Chavez's ride on Medallist. Too often, jockeys rate speed horses into submission, taking their best attribute and turning it into a liability.

Chavez was a passenger in the best sense of that term. He just let Medallist run. The colt opened up eight lengths on the turn. When Medallist went 44.45 seconds to the half and 107.96 to the three-quarters, I could hear everybody yelling that "he's going too fast." They were all correct. He was going so fast that he was impossible to catch.

The Cliff's Edge made a really nice run around horses on the turn and kept coming in the stretch. He caught stablemate Sir Shackleton for second just before the wire. Medallist was long gone. He won by 3 3+4 lengths. He ran 1 1/16 miles in a wild 1:40.02, a half-second off the track record.

The Belmont surface was fast, but not that fast. Medallist got a 112, signifying that the son of Touch Gold is now a player in serious 3-year-old stakes. The Cliff's Edge got a 105 in his comeback race, second only to his Blue Grass breakthrough 111 Beyer.

Medallist did not make his first start until Jan. 24. He had won just one of his first four starts before his 3-year-old explosion in the Withers.

While Rock Hard Ten got all the headlines last weekend for beating a nothing group in the Swaps Stakes, Medallist, to me, was the more impressive winner. He beat an accomplished horse in The Cliff's Edge and he did it with flair.

I don't know which of Nick Zito's solid 3-year-olds are going to show up to run in the Jim Dandy. The Cliff's Edge is possible and perhaps Birdstone will re-emerge then. Me? If he goes, I like Medallist. Again.