07/02/2003 11:00PM

Medicis has shot on surface switch

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Turf milers rarely win Grade 1 dirt sprints, reason perhaps to forsake longshot Medicis when he tries the main track Saturday in the seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park. Of course, dismissing Medicis because of surface is akin to dismissing Santa Catarina when she switches to turf in the main event Saturday - the $750,000 American Oaks.

Besides, trainer Richard Mandella said Medicis "works like a house afire on the main track." And even if it is his first try on dirt, the $300,000 Triple Bend (race 8) is a race Medicis is qualified to win. His chances increase because of uncertainty surrounding the favorites.

Start with the likely pacesetter, Avanzado, a graded stakes winner in California and New York. Avanzado, however, has not raced farther than six furlongs in three years, has not raced anywhere in three months, and is returning from a trip halfway around the world. Making his first start since March in Dubai, Avanzado appears vulnerable. Not according to trainer Doug O'Neill.

"He's training unbelievably," said O'Neill, adding that Tyler Baze, Avanzado's jockey, "has commented on how much more relaxed and mature he is."

As for distance, O'Neill said Avanzado "acts like it won't be a problem."

Often in seven-furlong races, said O'Neill, "the first quarter-mile is a little softer than six furlongs. If we can get a 22-and-change, we should be okay. Our intent is to go to the lead."

O'Neill is giving away no secrets. Avanzado is the lone speed and drew the inside post. Neither factor compromises - the rail is 7 for 34 at seven furlongs, while nearly 30 percent of the seven-furlong races at the meet have been won gate to wire. The horse who catches Avanzado will simply be a better horse on the day.

Ten entered the Triple Bend, including Joey Franco, a two-time stakes winner this meet and 118-pound co-highweight with Avanzado; Bluesthestandard, a former $10,000 claimer who won two graded stakes this spring; allowance-caliber runners Primerica and Kela; closers Publication and Cayoke; and longshots Cappuchino and Geronimo. Joey Franco is the only one entering off a win, but he faces infinitely tougher here.

On form, Bluesthestandard is a better horse than Joey Franco, whom he defeated in March in a Grade 2 sprint. Bluesthestandard subsequently won the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star, then regressed and finished second racing 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap. "I didn't think a sixteenth would make a difference, but I guess there's a breaking point for every horse," trainer Ted H. West said. "He still ran a good race - he still showed up."

He always does. Bluesthestandard has won or placed in 19 of his 22 races, and has maintained career-best form since West and owner Jeffrey Sengara claimed him for $50,000 in December. Martin Pedroza rides Bluesthestandard, possibly the safest bet in the race. But who needs safe?

Although Medicis, owned by Wertheimer Farm, has been a disappointment in three U.S. starts, indications are the 4-year-old is ready to break out. He would not be the first European Mandella has transformed into a top U.S. dirt sprinter. Irish-bred Corwyn Bay became a graded stakes winner on dirt in 1990. Corwyn Bay and Medicis, said Mandella, "don't look alike, but they're both dazzling in the morning on dirt."

In his last start, Medicis looked a contender at the quarter pole of the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, then flattened out. The move is indicative of a horse who might be right at home around one turn. A Group 1 runner-up in France, Medicis is ripe for a Triple Bend upset under Alex Solis.