02/09/2004 1:00AM

Plea to Medaglia: Do not go to Dubai


NEW YORK - Soon after Medaglia d'Oro humbled Seattle Fitz, Funny Cide, and all the rest in Saturday's Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, it was suggested that Medaglia d'Oro's next target would be the Dubai World Cup on March 27. For that, I have four words:

Don't do it. Please!

Medaglia d'Oro was sensational in the Donn, overcoming intimidation tactics from a 74-1 shot on the first turn to smash his field by almost five lengths in time strong enough for him to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 117. This performance strongly suggested that the championship that eluded Medaglia d'Oro both last year and in 2002 is certainly within his reach this year. But, if the goal really is to win a championship with Medaglia d'Oro instead of merely going for the money in a race that, admittedly, has a tantalizingly large purse of $6 million, then the Dubai World Cup should be ruled out immediately.

The reason for that is clear: A win by Medaglia d'Oro in the Dubai World Cup, even when combined with his victory in the Donn, still will not be enough to earn this horse any kind of title at year's end. He would have to do more, but that would probably be all Medaglia d'Oro will have to offer in terms of 2004 accomplishment. That is because if he goes to Dubai, there is a very strong chance that when he returns, he will not be even close to the horse he was when he left. In fact, even if Medaglia d'Oro should win in Dubai, the odds are that he would never win again.

For some reason, this has become an annual crusade for me. A year ago in this space, I literally begged the connections of Harlan's Holiday to reconsider their decision to go for the Dubai World Cup after Harlan's Holiday's excellent victory in the Donn despite being compromised by the 11 post. I wrote that even though Cigar, Silver Charm, Victory Gallop, and Aptitude did enjoy some degree of success back in this country after competing in the Dubai World Cup, Cigar and Victory Gallop's effectiveness back here was alarmingly short-lived, and it took lots of time for Silver Charm and Aptitude to regain decent form.

Moreover, I noted that for every Cigar, Silver Charm, Victory Gallop, and Aptitude, there was a Soul of the Matter, a Siphon, a Sandpit, a Malek, a Puerto Madero, a Public Purse, a Saint's Honor, and a Captain Steve, some of whom never even raced again, and all of whom never won again.

Oh yes, there was also a Harlan's Holiday, who, after finishing second in last year's Dubai World Cup, started three more times back here and lost them all, two by dismal double-digit margins.

Funny Cide glory is fading

On Saturday morning, an industry website had the following headline for its Donn Story: "Champion Funny Cide second choice for Donn." That headline, which totally ignored Medaglia d'Oro, who went into the Donn with earnings of $4.2 million, who was the topweight, and who went off at 3-5 to Funny Cide's 3-1, spoke volumes about the mileage Funny Cide has gotten from a 15-day hot streak he had nine months ago.

Funny Cide's free ride should now be over. He got his championship. Now it is time for everyone to take off the rose-colored glasses and subject Funny Cide to the same scrutiny every other prominent horse receives.

After easily beating modest allowance horses in his first start this year, Funny Cide was positioned to raise his game in the Donn, which is what really good horses do. Funny Cide did not, and now it should be obvious to all that he is not only absent from the same league as Medaglia d'Oro, he isn't in the same league as Pleasantly Perfect, either. There is also no comparison between Funny Cide and Candy Ride (should he ever race again), or even Perfect Drift, to name just two more. No one will ever be able to take Funny Cide's victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness away from him. And, somewhere along the line, he will probably win a rich stakes race somewhere, because there are a ton of those, and only so many good older horses to go around. But, since Funny Cide has now lost his last four starts in stakes by an average margin of more than nine lengths, it is silly to think of him as a meaningful player at the top of the game in the best races against the best horses, because he is not. He is what he is: a game gelding who can win his share by taking the low road, if he is allowed to, that is.

All of which underscores the fact that no matter what anyone says, or how hard they try, or how much publicity is thrown out there to cloud the issue, true greatness cannot be manufactured. Greatness is a gift, and when you see it, you and everyone else just know. Greatness is unmistakable.