08/08/2007 11:00PM

Medici Code looks to keep improving

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Medici Code's introduction to California racing went poorly. The English import finished sixth in the Santa Anita Derby last April, a performance that ended any remote chance of a start in the Kentucky Derby.

His introduction to Del Mar went much better, a second-place finish by a head in a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 18.

The restricted Oceanside was a prep to the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on Saturday, a race that can show why Herrick Racing paid approximately $585,000 for Medici Code in a private deal earlier this year.

"I thought last time he proved he's competitive with restricted winners," trainer Darrell Vienna said. "I think he's got more to prove. Can he win? Yes. I don't think we've seen the top of the horse."

A winner of 3 of 8 starts, Medici Code dominated the moderate synthetic-track circuit in England during the winter, winning three low-caliber races in a nine-day span in late January and February. He arrived at Vienna's barn later in the winter.

In the Santa Anita Derby, Medici Code was never a factor, finishing 11 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Tiago. "He came out with a little bit of a shin," Vienna said.

By Medicean, Medici Code is seeking his first win on turf. The Oceanside was his best result of four races on the surface. Vienna said that if Medici Code runs well in the La Jolla, at 1 1/16 miles, he will be considered for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 2.

"If he wins, it would be hard to deny him the opportunity," Vienna said.

Debutante next for Tasha's Miracle

Tasha's Miracle's easy victory in Wednesday's $150,000 Sorrento Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs left trainer John Sadler eager to try her in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante at seven furlongs on Sept. 3.

"We've always felt she would be better at a longer distance, so I'm happy to see her win at 6 1/2," he said. "I'll be happier to see her at seven furlongs."

Ridden by David Flores, Tasha's Miracle won the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths over Set Play, finishing in 1:19.59. The race was her second consecutive win.

"She just got into a good cruise," Flores said. "I liked my position all the way and she ran her race. She's a nice one."

Last winter, Tasha's Miracle was offered at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training but did not sell when bidding stalled at $325,000. Owner Syd Belzberg, who purchased Tasha's Miracle as a yearling for $125,000, sold a half-interest to the Team Valor International syndicate last month.

The filly did not sell at Barretts because of concern over a hockX-ray, according to Kim Lloyd, vice president of sales at Barretts. Lloyd was in the winner's circle for the Sorrento and serves as an adviser to Belzberg.

"The idea was to purchase a group of horses with the idea to sell them all," Belzberg said. Team Valor "offered a fair amount."

Belzberg said the filly is named for his wife Joanne's 35-year-old niece, Tasha Montagliani, who suffered injuries in a car accident in Spain last winter and has been in a coma since.

Tasha's Miracle gave Sadler his seventh win of the meeting, leaving him one behind leader Jeff Mullins. Sadler started the meeting with one winner from his first 24 starters, but has rebounded with six wins from his last 19 starters.

Sadler said he needed a few weeks to better understand Del Mar's new Polytrack synthetic surface.

"Even if you get off to a slow start, you can figure it out," Sadler said.

Leonetti makes unlikely comeback

Leonetti made a successful comeback from a broken neck in an optional claimer at five furlongs on turf on Wednesday, leaving owner Jon Kelly to compare the moment to his biggest success at Del Mar.

"Under the circumstances, it's about as special as when Borrego won the Pacific Classic," Kelly said.

Kelly and his wife, Sarah, were partners on Borrego, the winner of the 2005 Pacific Classic.

They are the sole owners of Leonetti, who returned from a layoff of nearly 13 months on Wednesday. Leonetti was sidelined with a splint bone injury last year, and suffered a broken neck while recovering from that injury at the Kellys' San Diego-area home.

"He had to be watered and fed by hand," Jon Kelly said.

In Wednesday's race, Leonetti took the lead from the start under jockey David Flores and pulled clear through the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths. He ran five furlongs in a quick 54.95 seconds. Flores rode Leonetti for trainer Marty Jones.

"I thought he'd spit it out, but he kept going," Jon Kelly said. "He doesn't have a mark on him because of the broken neck. For me, this is a big deal."

Hess expects Scibelli to make a run

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. is somewhat confused about his chances with the first-time starter Scibelli in Saturday's sixth race for 2-year-old maidens at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Hess had hoped that jockey Mike Smith would ride Scibelli, but Smith has taken the call on the first-time starter Finding Angelo. Hess has employed William Antongeorgi, who is seeking his first win of the meeting.

"It makes me think the other horse is pretty good," Hess said of Smith's decision.

Scibelli drew the outside and has worked well over the synthetic track.

"I think he can run, and I think he likes this surface," Hess said. "He'll break on top and hopefully he'll drop back to third or fourth and make a run."

The race features one other first-time starter in Song of Navarone, by Fusaichi Pegasus. Song of Navarone is well-regarded by trainer Paula Capestro, who bred the colt and is a co-owner.

Jockey Clinton Potts has worked Song of Navarone regularly, and says the colt may be better going a route.

"He's got a good mind," Potts said. "If you push him, he'll do what you ask him to do. I'm not sure what he'll do going 6 1/2. He's definitely headed in the right direction."

Of the runners with experience, there will be support for Numismatist, who was second and third in his first two starts.