02/23/2009 12:00AM

Medici Code reviving stagnant career

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PHOENIX - You can't blame trainer Darrell Vienna for feeling he's due for some success with the 5-year-old Medici Code, whom he sends out for Sunday's Grade 2 San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on turf at Santa Anita. Medici Code looked very promising two seasons ago after coming here from Europe, and while 2008 was basically a lost year for him, he appears headed back in the right direction.

Medici Code was good enough to win the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on the turf back in September 2007. A dirt try in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby didn't go so well, but the return to turf appeared to be the key as he came back to be second to emerging turf star Daytona in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He chased that rival again when third in the Grade 2 San Gabriel just before the calendar turned to 2008 - a rough year for Medici Code.

Some strong main-track works by Medici Code after the San Gabriel got Vienna to thinking: He handles the synthetic, he surely loves 10 furlongs, let's try the Big Cap.

It seemed like a good idea, but Medici Code ran terribly, finishing 13th, far behind the Big Cap winner, Heatseeker, last March. It turned out that Medici Code bled significantly. He didn't race again until the fall. He was fifth in the Grade 1 Citation in his first race back, beaten two lengths. It was a decent race, but you had to wonder if he was going to fulfill the promise he had shown the previous year. He ended 2008 with another third in the San Gabriel on Dec. 28.

That effort was solid, but didn't prove that he again would have an impact at a high level. He seemed to prove that in the Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita on Jan. 19. After biding his time early in the 1 1/4-mile turf race, Medici Code finished full of run. He got the lead late, but was nipped on the line by the multiple Grade 1 winner Artiste Royal. Still, it was his best performance since the Hollywood Derby.

The hurdles for him in the San Luis Obispo are significant. Bobby Frankel has entered his top-class Euro invader Zambezi Sun. (He also entered Grade 1 winner Champs Elysees, though he said he will likely scratch that runner and await the Big Cap.) Proven stayers Spring House and Church Service merit respect.

It's a division looking for a leader out West, and Medici Code might be able to realize his full potential on Sunday and toss his hat in the ring.

Curious thinking

Upon hearing the recent notions by the connections of Stardom Bound and Matto Mondo, I couldn't help but wonder if they would be doing the right thing. Owner IEAH stables is considering racing the champion filly Stardom Bound in the Kentucky Derby, while trainer Richard Mandella is contemplating sending the miler Matto Mondo to the Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles.

Now, I think Stardom Bound is the cat's meow, but taking on the boys is a very tall order. What's wrong with dominating the girls? What's wrong with winning the Kentucky Oaks? As great as Eight Belles ran in the Derby last year, she finished second - and she gave up her life in the pursuit.

I know there are those who like the sexiness and drama of it all, and you only have to go back two years to recall that the filly Rags to Riches beat Curlin in the Belmont. But for every Rags to Riches there's an Excellent Meeting, Cupecoy's Joy, Serena's Song, and a host of others who couldn't handle the Triple Crown assignment.

The path being explored by Matto Mondo's connections is obviously less risky. Matto Mondo has won two straight starts, a Santa Anita optional claimer on the turf and the Gradeo3 Thunder Road there, which was taken off turf and run on the Pro-Ride. Matto Mondo has the potential to be the miler in this country, on turf and dirt. But he may well have distance limitations, so why waste a bullet when he's so sharp?

What's wrong with the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile, and Grade 1 Maker's Mark, and either the Grade 1 Shoemaker or Grade 1 Met Mile?

Why try a distance at which Matto Mondo surely has to be considered suspect when Grade 1 options abound at his own game?