03/23/2004 1:00AM

Stretch too long, or just long enough?


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Jose Cuevas, the exercise rider who accompanied Medaglia d'Oro to the Middle East for Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup, took a long look at the Nad Al Sheba racetrack on Tuesday morning and let out an audible sigh.

"That's a long stretch," he said.

The homestretch at Nad Al Sheba is more than three furlongs in length, long enough for Medaglia d'Oro to steal a few lengths turning for home and then try to hold off a cavalry of international challengers. But the stretch provides plenty of time for a closer such as fellow American rival Pleasantly Perfect to launch a rally.

Either scenario is possible in the Dubai World Cup, which is part of a seven-stakes program worth $15.25 million in prize money. The 1 1/4-mile World Cup will be run at 12:20 p.m. Eastern.

Medaglia d'Oro and Pleasantly Perfect lead a field of 12, which includes two other American-based runners - Domestic Dispute and Fleetstreet Dancer.

The opposition includes local star Victory Moon; Grande Hombre, the winner of the Pennsylvania Derby last September, who has since been acquired by the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing; and State Shinto, who was fourth behind Mineshaft in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park last October.

Tuesday, Medaglia d'Oro jogged, while Pleasantly Perfect galloped. The jog was the first exercise for Medaglia d'Oro since he worked about six furlongs on Sunday.

"He was eager," Cuevas said.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Ed Gann of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Medaglia d'Oro has won 8 of 16 starts and $4,554,720. Medaglia d'Oro, 5, made only five starts last year, and was never worse than second, winning the Strub Stakes and the Whitney and Oaklawn handicaps and finishing second in the Pacific Classic and Breeders' Cup Classic. In the BC Classic, Pleasantly Perfect rallied from the back of the field to catch Medaglia d'Oro in the final furlong and win by 1 1/2 lengths.

In Medaglia d'Oro's comeback in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 7, he took his customary place near the front of the field and pulled away to win by 4 3/4 lengths as a heavy favorite. Similar tactics may make him tough to catch on Saturday.

Cuevas insists that Medaglia d'Oro is best with time between races and that the seven weeks between the Donn Handicap and the Dubai World Cup is ideal.

"He runs better when he's fresh," Cuevas said. "He doesn't do anything wrong; nothing bothers him. He's very mellow, a kind horse."

Pleasantly Perfect gave his connections a minor scare on Monday when he tore the shoe from his right front foot during a gallop. The incident did not damage the foot, trainer Richard Mandella said. During Tuesday's gallop, Pleasantly Perfect wore a pad and a bandage on the foot. He received a new set of shoes late Tuesday morning.

"He is doing great," Mandella said.

Tuesday, Medaglia d'Oro and Pleasantly Perfect schooled at the gate, which was set up in a chute on the backstretch. Mandella had assistance from Alex Solis Jr., the teenage son of jockey Alex Solis, who has the mount on Pleasantly Perfect Saturday. Alex Jr. traveled to Dubai with Mandella last week.

"We were the gate crew," Mandella said. "He led him in and I closed the gate."

The gate, made in Australia, is smaller than American models and has been modified to allow more space for horses. The gates do not have space for handlers to stand with the horses before a start, as is customary in the United States.

"He barely fits in there," Mandella said of Pleasantly Perfect.

Pleasantly Perfect is seeking his fourth consecutive win, the most recent of which came in the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 31. Fleetstreet Dancer finished third in that race.

Domestic Dispute has not started since pulling an upset in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7.