06/17/2004 12:00AM

One horse truly merits a gold medal

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PHILADELPHIA - As Smarty Jones was dominating the headlines all spring, another terrific slipped quietly into the shadows. If there was one race I really wanted to see this fall, it was one with Smarty and Medaglia d'Oro in it.

That won't happen now that Medaglia d'Oro has been retired to stud at Hill 'n' Dale Farms in Lexington, Ky. Still, could you imagine?

Pure speed that can be carried long distances at the top levels of the sport is the quality that makes breeders salivate. It is why Roy and Pat Chapman are sifting through offers for Smarty that are in the $40 million range. It is why Audrey Haisfield of Never Tell Farm paid many millions to Edmund Gann for the right to stand Medaglia d'Oro at John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale.

Medaglia will join Theatrical, Vindication, Buddha, Jade Hunter, Stormy Atlantic, and several other top stallions at the farm. As the top son of terrific sire El Prado, one would think Medaglia has a rather nice chance at success.

Mark Reid is rooting hard. A trainer-turned-bloodstock agent, he hit a home run with Medaglia. After the horse earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 in his second lifetime start, a Feb. 2, 2002, maiden race at Oaklawn Park, Reid recommended that Gann spend $500,000 to buy him.

If you are just getting started in a new aspect of the business, it helps if you have a good advertising campaign. Medaglia was Reid's.

"I traveled the country back and forth, and he's as top-class a race horse as I've seen over the past couple of years," Reid said.

After the purchase, Medaglia was turned over to trainer Bobby Frankel. Following an adventurous Triple Crown campaign, Medaglia turned into the most consistent horse of his time. His last 10 races were either at 1 1/8 miles or 1 1/4 miles. Seven were in Grade I stakes. The other three were Grade 2. He raced at Saratoga, Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park, Del Mar, Gulfstream Park, and Nad Al Sheba. He won six and was second in the other four.

Medaglia earned Beyers of 120, 119, 118 and 117 (twice) along the way. He was perfect at Saratoga, winning the Jim Dandy, Travers, and Whitney. He was second twice in the Breeders' Cup Classic, once to the unlikely Volponi and once to the high-quality Pleasantly Perfect, after emerging from a vicious speed duel with Congaree. The only other horse to beat him after the Triple Crown was Candy Ride. His last start was in the Dubai World Cup, when Pleasantly Perfect edged him by three-quarters of a length.

Jerry Bailey rode him in those final 10 starts and once said "he had one of the highest cruising speeds of any horse I ever sat on."

In 17 career starts, Medaglia won eight of them and was second seven times. He earned $5,754,720.

When Frankel had a terrible 2003 Breeders' Cup, with horse after horse running far off their best form, Medaglia still fired. Had the horse gotten an opportunity to relax in the Classic, he may very well have won. His trip was, in some ways, not unlike Smarty's in the Belmont Stakes.

Can you just imagine a race between Medaglia and Smarty? A match race?

It would have been a 1 1/8-mile or a 1 1/4-mile sprint. It would have been a race between two high-class horses. It would have also matched up Reid and his former assistant, Smarty's trainer, John Servis. It would have been something.

Smarty Jones, of course, still has more on his agenda. Medaglia d'Oro's r?sum? is complete.

Had Medaglia won those Classics, he might have been a two-time Horse of the Year. In an era of inconsistency, this son of El Prado always showed up with his "A" game. You can look long and hard before finding a horse with 15 triple-digit Beyer Figures in 17 starts and nine Beyers of 111 or more - with the assumption that the Dubai figure, a mile and a quarter in 2:00.20 had to be a big one. In fact, there is only one horse in America who can make that claim over the last two years: Medaglia d'Oro.