03/27/2004 12:00AM

Pleasantly Perfect stakes his claim

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Pleasantly Perfect (left) defeats Medaglia d'Oro after a long stretch battle in Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup. The order of finish was the same as last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - There can be no doubt that Pleasantly Perfect is the world's top-ranked dirt horse.

Five months after winning the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, Pleasantly Perfect scored a gutty victory over Medaglia d'Oro in Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba on a warm desert night in the Middle East.

"This is incredible," said winning owner Gerald Ford, of Dallas. "If anyone else is better, they haven't shown up."

The one-two finish marked the second time Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro had finished 1-2

in a world-class race. In the BC Classic, Pleasantly Perfect won by 1 1/2 lengths, closing from the back of the field to catch Medaglia d'Oro. On Saturday, Pleasantly Perfect was closer and rallied late to win by three-quarters of a length. Pleasantly Perfect, 6, ran the about 1 1/4 miles, or 2000 meters, in 2:00.24.

The win was a first in the world's richest race for trainer Richard Mandella. He had been second three times, most recently in 1999.

Pleasantly Perfect was ridden by Alex Solis, who kept his mount within striking distance of the early pace set by fellow Californian Fleetstreet Dancer. Medaglia d'Oro, who won the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 7, was second early, stalking Fleetstreet Dancer.

After six furlongs, the longshot Dinyeper faded, leaving three American-based horses at the front of the 12-horse field. Solis, who had saved ground, began to ask more of his mount.

"At the 800-meter mark, it took a while to get going," Solis said. "I was glad I did that or I might not have caught Medaglia d'Oro."

Fleetstreet Dancer led until early stretch, when he was passed by Medaglia d'Oro, but it wasn't long until Pleasantly Perfect drew alongside.

Pleasantly Perfect had a narrow lead with a furlong remaining when Medaglia d'Oro appeared to close the gap.

"He kicked once and he kicked again when I asked him to do so," said Jerry Bailey, who rode Medaglia d'Oro for Ed Gann and trainer Bobby Frankel.

At one point, Mandella feared Pleasantly Perfect would be caught.

"I thought I was home free halfway up the stretch," he said. "When Medaglia d'Oro came back on, I thought, 'Oh God, here's another one of those [seconds].' "

Pleasantly Perfect slowly pulled clear late. The lucrative payday raised Pleasantly Perfect's career earnings to $6,699,880.

Medaglia d'Oro finished five lengths clear of third-place finisher Victory Moon. Fleetstreet Dancer faded to seventh.

Mandella dedicated the win to retired trainer Lefty Nickerson, who died early Saturday in New York. Mandella worked for Nickerson in the early 1970's and the two remained friends.