01/16/2008 1:00AM

Medici Code in tough in San Marcos


ARCADIA, Calif. - Medici Code's transition from facing fellow 3-year-olds to racing against older horses in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita on Dec. 30 produced mixed results.

He finished third, 2 1/2 lengths behind the race-winning Daytona in the field of six, and the loss left trainer Darrell Vienna baffled. Vienna expected Medici Code to make a bigger impression in the stretch.

"He looked like he was running hard, but he wasn't going anywhere," Vienna said. "I'm just kind of puzzled."

The competition gets tougher when Medici Code starts in Saturday's $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita. While Daytona is not in the San Marcos field, the race does have Champs Elysees, a group stakes winner in France last year who finished a troubled second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last month.

"I think this race is tougher," Vienna said. "Champs Elysees looks like the real deal and a different kind of horse."

That does not mean that Vienna is conceding the race. Medici Code was beaten only a half-length by Daytona in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at 1 1/4 miles on turf in November.

"I love the distance" of the San Marcos, Vienna said. "He's trained very well. I'm wondering if we should stretch him out farther."

Champs Elysees will be a heavy favorite in the field of eight for the Grade 2 San Marcos.

The race has drawn three other 2007 stakes winners - Decado, the winner of the Group 3 International Stakes in Ireland; Obrigado, who won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap here last February; and Ramazutti, the winner of the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream Park last January.

Now Victory takes a big shot

Now Victory had a career-best season in 2007, winning three stakes and $236,135.

For his first start of 2008, owners John Harris and Per Antonsen and trainer Dean Pederson have chosen a more lucrative prize - the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita on Jan. 26.

"Its kind of humbling to run for that kind of money," Pederson said.

Pederson thinks that Now Victory deserves a shot at the richest race for California-breds. The 7-year-old gelding has won 3 of his last 4 starts, including a 31-1 upset in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap in September and a win in the lesser Forty Niner Stakes at Golden Gate Fields last month.

Based at Golden Gate, Now Victory had mixed results in Southern California last year. He was a game second to Epic Power in the Korbel Handicap at Hollywood Park in July, but was 10th in the California Cup Mile in November after leading to early stretch.

"It was a day when he never relaxed," Pederson said of the California Cup Mile. "It was disappointing, but we came home and regrouped. He rebounded with some good races for us."

Now Victory will face strong opposition in the Sunshine Millions, which is run at 1 1/8 miles. The race will be limited to 12 starters. The other California-bred contenders include Bilo, Bold Chieftain, Celtic Dreamin, and defending champion McCann's Mojave, while the Florida-bred hopefuls are Buzzards Bay, Diamond Stripes, Electrify, Go Between, Going Ballistic, Gottcha Gold, and Sweetnorthernsaint.

Electrify, trained by Edward Plesa Jr., has won four stakes in his last five starts, including the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder on Dec. 15.

Pederson said that Mike Smith will ride Now Victory, replacing Russell Baze, who will ride in the Sunshine Millions stakes races at Gulfstream Park on the same day.

Pederson was enthusiastic about Now Victory's six-furlong workout in 1:11.80 at Golden Gate Fields last Sunday, the fastest of 18 recorded works at the distance.

"I feel pretty good, or the horse feels pretty good," he said. "Are we good enough? For $1omillion, I guess we'll find out. We'll take our shot. If we're good enough, great. If not, we'll get on I-5 and head back home."

P. S. U. Grad makes season debut

Upon further review, trainer Craig Dollase thought that the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes last Sunday was too much to ask of P. S. U. Grad. When he saw Indian Blessing extend her winning streak to four in the Santa Ynez, his opinion did not change.

"They set a track record," Dollase said.

Dollase scratched P. S. U. Grad and pointed her to an optional claimer on the hillside turf course in Friday's fifth race at Santa Anita. The optional claimer will be P. S. U. Grad's first start since a 10th-place finish in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes here in late September.

"I think she'll handle [the turf] just fine," Dollase said. "We'll take advantage of our conditions and get a race under our belt. Hopefully, we'll take on the good fillies later on."

First, P. S. U. Grad must win on Friday. The field of eight 3-year-old fillies includes Passion, who was third in the Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga last August but was last of nine in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes there on Sept. 2.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Passion is making her first start on turf, as is Ice Lady, who was third in the Corte Madera Stakes at Golden Gate Fields last month.

Big plans for Signature Move

Signature Move, who won an allowance race for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 4, will make his next start in the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 9, which trainer Eric Guillot envisions as a prep to the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

"I want him to have an easier time," Guillot said. "I'll win the Risen Star, and I want to run him in the Santa Anita Derby."

Guillot considers Signature Move his best chance for a Triple Crown starter.

Salute the Sarge, the stable's star 2-year-old of 2007, has resumed galloping after finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. He won the Hollywood Juvenile and Best Pal Stakes and finished second in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes.

Salute the Sarge is not considered a Kentucky Derby hopeful, at least not at this time. "We'll wait and see," Guillot said. "I nominated him. He's not a mile-and-a-quarter horse."