08/21/2002 11:00PM

Odds are, Travers will go to favorite

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - "Hardly a man is now alive who bet a lot at 2-5."

- anonymous

Medaglia d'Oro was most impressive in winning the Jim Dandy by almost 14 lengths. He has trained beautifully in the interim for Bobby Frankel, looks a picture, and will be a heavy favorite under Jerry Bailey in Saturday's 133rd running of the

$1 million Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles.

But what do you do with the price? History tells us that the last four odds-on Travers favorites - Point Given, Thunder Gulch, Holy Bull, and Easy Goer - were winners, as were 17 of the last 20.

The evidence is strongly in favor of Medaglia d'Oro. If the Travers were a handicap, he would be obliged to give weight to all. Instead, the Travers runners all carry 126 pounds and are taking the worst of it.

Why do they compete? Because anything can happen in a horse race, particularly here at Saratoga where Man o' War, Gallant Fox, and Secretariat, three of the greatest horses of the 20th century, were upset. Gallant Fox was 1-2 in the Travers of 1930 and was regarded as one of the all-time locks, but Jim Dandy, at 100-1, beat him to the wire by eight lengths on a muddy track.

Perhaps that was what Frankel had in mind when he said his greatest concern was the weather, not only in connection with his horse but its effect on the others. Wayne Lukas, for example, is confident an off track will materially benefit Shah Jehan.

On a fast track, Repent, Puzzlement, and Quest appear to have the best chances if an upset is in order. Puzzlement and Quest are comparatively late developers. Their best form is not yet distinct. Repent, on the other hand, has displayed good form in good company. He hasn't started in some four months, but trainer Ken McPeek, who saddled the longshot Sarava to upset Medaglia d'Oro in the Belmont Stakes, feels he can do it again with Repent in the Travers.

But Medaglia d'Oro has a lot of guns, and if the Jim Dandy was a true bill he has learned how to fire them. He will be difficult to catch in the Travers.

Trainer on the rise

Last week's momentous victory by Farda Amiga in the Alabama after an absence from competition of almost four months reflected considerable credit on trainer Paulo Lobo.

Lobo, 33, has a comprehensive background in racing. His father has been one of Brazil's leading trainers for many years, and young Lobo was his chief assistant from 1988 to 1994, at which time he formed his own stable and was quite successful. He trained as many as 70 horses in Brazil and gave them up to come to the United States last year with five 2-year-olds and two Brazilian horses.

"I only had three winners that first season at Santa Anita," Lobo said. "However, I only had 12 starters, so my average is all right. I've got 17 horses now, and with Farda Amiga as the leader of the stable I hope to do better."

Lobo has the Breeders' Cup Distaff as his next goal for Farda Amiga. He does not plan to run her before the Breeders' Cup, at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, noting that she runs well fresh.

Lobo says that the biggest difference between training in the United States and Brazil is that the emphasis is on speed in this country, while in Brazil the main thrust is stamina. He also notices a distinct difference in the configuration of racetracks. He points out that in Brazil the stretch is usually three furlongs or even longer, while in the United States they are usually much shorter. The difference is reflected in the training.