04/03/2003 12:00AM

New phase begins for Medaglia

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Medaglia d'Oro will start a new chapter in his racing career Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, but there is little suspense involved.

In his first start in a handicap, Medaglia d'Oro is the 122-pound highweight and probable odds-on favorite. The field of five is completed by last year's race winner Kudos, Crafty Shaw, Slider, and Gold Tango.

The 1 1/8-mile race, the co-feature with the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, will be Medaglia d'Oro's first start of the year against older horses in a Horse of the Year campaign his trainer, Bobby Frankel, said could include starts in the Pimlico Special, the Stephen Foster, or Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Whitney.

Frankel said he must manage the colt differently this year than last year, when Medaglia d'Oro did not run in any handicaps. Last year, Medaglia d'Oro's wins included the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Jim Dandy, both for 3-year-olds, and he finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic, a weight-for-age race that included older horses.

"I've got to be careful what races I pick for him," said Frankel. "I want to keep the weight off as much as I can."

Frankel pulled Medaglia d'Oro from consideration for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap after he was assigned co-high weight of 124 pounds with 5-year-old Congaree.

Medaglia d'Oro was then pointed to the $6 million Dubai World Cup, but after he did not clean up all his feed following his final work for the race, Frankel opted against the ship to Dubai. The circumstances have brought Medaglia d'Oro to Hot Springs.

"He's ready to run," said Frankel.

Medaglia d'Oro last raced Feb. 1 at Santa Anita, winning the Grade 2, $400,000 Strub for 4-year-olds by seven lengths. He led through fractions of 45.96 seconds and 1:09.98 in the 1 1/8-mile race before finishing in 1:48.04.

He was given a Beyer Figure of 119 for his effort, the top number for any horse this year.

Frankel looks for Medaglia d'Oro, who drew the rail, to again be prominent early in the Oaklawn Handicap, in which he must overcome a two-month layoff and spot his rivals between seven and 14 pounds.

"I looked at the Form, and there doesn't seem to be much speed, so I expect him to go to the front, and hope to hang on," said Frankel.

Kudos comes into the Oaklawn Handicap on the heels of a third-place finish to Milwaukee Brew and Congaree in the Big Cap. He also finished third in the Big Cap last year, and then went on to win the Oaklawn by 4 3/4 lengths over Bowman's Band.